Charles Robert Ashbee (1863- 1942), the distinguished Arts & Crafts designer, architect and social reformer, established the Guild and School of Handicraft in East London in 1888, and produced some of the most important works of the Arts & Crafts Movement. The Guild predominately specialised in metalwork, producing jewellery and enamels as well as hand-wrought copper and wrought ironwork, silver wares and also furniture. Just three months after the Guild was established they were able to exhibit seventeen works in metal at the first Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society. Their exhibit was a great success, with the Sunday Times describing their works as 'wonderfully good'. From this auspicious start, Ashbee continued to expand the Guild through the 1890s as he hired more craftsmen and experimented with new techniques and materials.
During the early 1890s, the Guild started using silver for the first time. The focus at first was decorative sports trophies and cups, followed by more functional objects in the latter half of the decade as the Guild shifted its attention to silver tableware. Ashbee continued to make cups with covers, some of which were used as prizes or trophies for sport in the late 1890s and early 1900s. These he produced partly because of his interest in watching competitive sports, and also because of his passion for craftsmanship and his disdain for mass-produced trophies that he believed to be an insult to both art and athletics. The cup and cover offered here, hallmarked in London for the year 1901-1902, demonstrates this admiration for hand-crafted metalwork. The textured surface of the silver is intentionally left unsmooth or planished to show the human interaction and imprint of the craft. It is a typical example of Ashbee’s work in silver, not only with regard to its finish but also due to the floral and foliate openwork decoration, set with green chrysoprase cabochons, which also feature in his jewellery and metalwork from the early 1890s. The form is inspired by German and Dutch standing cups of the 1600s, of which there was a fine collection at the South Kensington Museum in London, where Ashbee was a regular visitor.
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