Elkington and Co. English, 1801-1865




Elkington of Birmingham revolutionised the silver industry with their electroplating techniques, developed and perfected by George Richards Elkington. He was apprenticed to and later partnered (until 1840) his uncles, J. and G.Richards, producers of jewellery, silver and cut glass. In 1824 he inherited his father's gilt-toy and spectacle firm which he ran with his cousin, Henry Elkington (c.1810-52); they experimented with gilding base metals, taking out patents for their electroplating process in 1836/37 and '40. At first there was resistance from other Sheffield plating firms but from 1840 Elkington's were licensing their patent to other firms, including Christofle in Paris, William Button of Sheffield and Edward Barnard, London. By 1847 Elkington had perfected their technique and subsequently prospered from the mass production of tableware for the catering trade. In addition they produced decorative silver in a variety of styles, from the Moorish to the Italian Renaissance. Like the ceramic factories, Elkington employed a number of foreign designers. Benjamin Schlick (1792-1872), provided some of the earliest designs; Pierre-Emile Jeannest (1813-57) , previously a modeller with Minton's headed Elkington's design staff, 1853-57; Leonard Morel-Ladeuil (1820-88) a pupil of Antoifie Vechte, whose intricate pieces include the Inventions Vase, 1863 and Milton Shield, which won a Gold in Paris, 1867 (both; Victoria and Albert Museum, London). Auguste A.Willms (1827-1899) previously employed by Jean-Valentin Morel in Paris headed Elkington's design team 1859-99.


In 1842 josiah Mason, a wealthy pen manufacturer was taken into partnership and the firm became Elkington, Mason and Co. until 1861. When G.R.Elkington died, 1865 the business was entrusted to his four sons; Frederick (1822-1905), James B. (1830-1907) Alfred J. (1834-1910) and Howard (d. 1899). The firm was styled Elkington and Co. 1861-86 (with Frederick as a partner) and became a Limited Company 1887-1963 (with Frederick as a director until his death, 1905). Frederick obtained his Freedom of the Goldsmiths Co., 1885 and became a Liveryman in 1890. It appears that he was at the forefront of the firm. Some of the most interesting pieces bear his stamp, such as a silver and gilt jug and two beakers, 1882-3 (Victoria and Albert Museum), with matting and engraved in the Japanese taste. Originally inspired by Tiffany's experiments in textured silver and base metals decoration to imitate Japanese metalwork, Elkington's were one of the first manufacturers to produce silver in a Japonaiserie style. Frederick collected Oriental cloisonne enamels (sold by Christie's, 1905) and from the 1860's until 1879 applied cloisonne and champleve enamelling . He was probably responsible for commissioning designs by Christopher Dresser (1834-1904), who likewise loved Japan. Dresser was the first in England to design really new forms for the silver industry; like Puiforcat he believed that design should address utilitarian qualities and that cost, even when using expensive materials (silver) should not be prohibitive (electroplating). In addition Elkington's like Jones and Crompton fo Birmingham were influenced both by Liberty silver and the foewing lines of Continental Art Nouveau. Some of the most interesting and now sought after Elkington silver was produced while Frederick Elkington co-ran the firm.


Copyright by Richard Redding Ltd.