This rare, and possibly unique, coffee pot, designed by Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) and made by James Dixon & Sons in Sheffield, is a was a highlight in our Decorative Arts: Design from 1860 auction this October, selling for £97,250 (inc buyers premium).
The coffee pot was bought by a European Institution, they commented on the purchase saying “I have always admired Dresser’s work and I am delighted to have been successful in buying this wonderful example of his work. In my opinion he was at the forefront of design. I particularly like the functionality of the piece. He was well ahead of his time and his radical designs continue to influence designers to this day.”
A series of costings books held in the archives at Sheffield and dating from 1879 to 1883 reveal that Dresser produced approximately 80 designs for Dixon’s, not all of which are thought to have gone into full production. This was possibly due to comparative expense of manufacture, but also because of the radical nature of the designs. What the books also show us is how much each item produced cost to make in detail, how they were made and in most cases which were designed by Dresser. Scholarly study of the books has tended to concentrate on the costings for 1879, which contains the famous designs for teapots, however, the costings for this coffee pot turn up two years later in the book dated 1881, where a further concentration of his designs are held, including variations in size of previous works.
Looking through the books, the majority of the designs are not illustrated, with the exception of those by Dresser, which usually appear as a thumbnail sketch or photograph. This may be an indication that these more expensive and unusual vessels did not appear in their trade catalogues and were perhaps generally made to order.
Certainly, it is widely accepted that at this point in his remarkable career Dresser was at the height of his powers, about to embark on what would be his bold, but ill-fated, retail project - The Art Furnishers Alliance. His designs for Dixons demonstrate his close understanding and interest in the process of manufacture and the use of material. The extraordinary forms and stripping away of ornament in his metalwork designs of this period, credited to the influence of his trip to Japan in 1876, is very much in evidence, and in the final analysis, mark him out as one of the greats of 19th century design.
For more information on Decorative Arts at Lyon & Turnbull speak to our specialists.
Rudoe, J. 2008 'Design and Manufacture: Evidence from the Dixon & Sons Calculation Books', The Decorative Arts Society 1850 to the Present: Christopher
Dresser in Context, Journal 29: 66-83.
Sheffield Archives, Accession B496, Dixon costings book 1881, p. 106.