By 1800 the vast wealth amassed from the Industrial Revolution had created a wealthy emerging middle class, this prosperity is clearly illustrated with the silver commissioned during this period. Requests for huge dinnerware services to presentation holloware were not unusual and highlight how this success was enjoyed.
This prosperity was not only centred around London but was shared with emergent cities such as Glasgow, Sheffield and Birmingham and allowed silversmiths such as Benjamin Smith and his brother James to really make a mark for themselves as skilled silversmiths and chasers.
Of the two brothers, Benjamin was the more prolific, born in Birmingham in 1764, he began his carrier with Matthew Boulton, before moving to London and later embarking on a partnership with his friend and silversmith Digby Scott in 1802. Their workshop in Greenwich supplied Rundell & Bridge, where they would have worked alongside eminent silversmith Paul Storr; many believe their work comparable in quality to his. His collaboration with Scott was a particularly fruitful one, it was at this time they were commissioned to create ‘The Duke of York Baskets’ for Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763-1827), the second son of George III, previously exhibited in the Powerhouse Museum in Australia; and also the Jamaica Service, created in 1803 for William IV (1765-1837), then Duke of Clarence, still in the Royal collection today. This was no doubt facilitated by their connection with the Crown jewellers Rundell & Bridge, who were the retailers responsible for supplying all banqueting plate and jewellery of the Royal family.
It would seem that Benjamin preferred to work in partnership with other silversmiths, rather than independently, however these collaborations were always short lived, though why is unclear. By 1809 he had left Scott and joined forces with his brother James; and though this only lasted until 1812, it was during this time that this this impressive cup and cover were commissioned. They may well have continued to produce for Rundell & Bridge, but regardless their craftsmanship remained impeccable, and their pieces typify the style of the period.
In the wake of George III’s failing health and as he was deemed unfit to rule, the Prince of Wales succeeded as Prince Regent in 1811 until his father’s death in 1820. This period offered new beginnings with more influences from the continent and the French Empire style filtering through. The swags of applied fruiting vines, foliate motifs and Bacchus masks are a clear nod to the emerging Regency style, while the symmetry and sumptuous opulence of the piece have their origins in the French influence. For a similar example, see Christies 10th June 2010 auction, Centuries of Style: Silver, European Ceramics, Portrait Miniatures and Gold Boxes, lot 352 for The Doncaster Races Cup, 1805, also by Digby Scott & Benjamin Smith.
This cup and cover with the presentation leather case is a rare example of not only an eminent silversmithing family but that of a new and exciting period where wealth was to be shown in the home with great commissions of silver and even grander examples of silver-gilt ware.
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