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23rd March ‘Fresh Stock’ – Old Sheffield Plate

Old Sheffield Plate, Adams design, 1777
Old Sheffield Plate, Adams design, 1777
Old Sheffield Plate claret jug, Adams design, Mathew Fenton & Co. 1777

23rd March 2022

Today’s ‘Fresh Stock’ additions are mostly classic pieces of ‘Old Sheffield Plate’ – with a few Sterling Silver and a few Plated pieces mixed in.

1777 Old Sheffield Plate claret jug illustrated in Bradbury
1777 Old Sheffield Plate ‘Claret Jug’ illustrated in Bradbury 1912

Old Sheffield Plate was of course the method developed in the 18th century to cut down on the amount of silver used in tablewares. It did, however, increase the amount of time & care needed to make the pieces, as they are all laboriously put together from a flat rolled sheet of silver & copper.

Of particular note is the Old Sheffield claret jug. This is an absolute rarity; the coffee pots we featured a while ago are not common, but a claret is magnitudes rarer.

In ‘The History of Old Sheffield Plate (published 1912), Bradbury’s definitive book on the subject, he illustrates the identical claret jug (p.308). This is captioned as a “1 1/2 pint Adam jug, by Mathew Fenton & Co. Date 1777”.
He then describes these jugs as “By no means the least useful, and certainly the most graceful…” of the Old Sheffield products. He refers to them as ‘Claret jugs’, stating they are ‘very rarely to be met with to-day’ (in 1912). In 2022, it’s even more so – especially in the excellent condition we have found this one in.
The attribution to Mathew Fenton & Co. via Bradbury’s illustration is firm, with only a couple of minor differences; the junction of the foot & body in ours has a seam, while the engraved illustration is smooth, and the handle – hand-carved from boxwood- has an extra protruding spur at the base.

Old Sheffield Plate Cheese Toasters
Old Sheffield Plate ‘Cheese Toasters’, circa 1815

Other interesting pieces include two ‘Cheese Toasters’. The toasted bread was placed inside with the cheese ready on top; the enclosed shape, when heated, would to a good job of melting the cheese, something that has never gone out of fashion! These small single-handled dishes were popular in the late 18th – early 19th century, and one has the very smart hi-tech feature of a ‘warming compartment’. This is hidden beneath the interior, and accessed by unscrewing the wooden handle.

The mark of T&J Creswick, Sheffield, c. 1815

The thread then makes a water-tight seal, and his Lordship’s cheese is guaranteed to be nice & runny…. it bears the crest of an arm with an arrow, but as this was applied to dozens of families armourials, it is impossible to be specific about who had their cheese from this dish.

The smaller armorial piece does, however, have a rare makers mark, and this allows us to identify the workshop of T&J Creswick, Sheffield.

Derby Scallop Shell sweetmeat stand, Old Sheffiled Plate shell dishes
Derby Scallop Shell sweetmeat stand c. 1770, with two Old Sheffield Plate shell dishes c. 1800

An elegant couple of items are the Old Sheffield shell-form dishes. These are often seen in porcelain, where they are called ‘pickle dishes’, the idea being they were used on the table to serve pickled garnishes necessary to disguise the dubious preservation of any meat served, a necessity until the invention of reliable refrigeration.

However, silver finished items would not be very useful with an acid-like pickle vinegar placed in them – they would tarnish before your eyes. These dishes must have been used for something else on the tables of the gentry, perhaps for the sweetmeats of the desert setting. There are large ‘towers’ of shells in porcelain from Derby Worcester and Bow from the 18th century which are described as being dessert / sweetmeat stands, so it is logical these were used in the same manner.

Georgian Candle Snuffers
Georgian Candle Snuffers

Some interesting pieces of history are the ‘candle snuffers’. Shaped like scissors, they have a rectangular box one arm, the lid on the other. Despite their name, they were not to ‘snuff’ the candle out; rather, they fulfilled a very important job in the world of illumination: when the wick of the candle burnt lower and left a charred remnant, it would cause problems with the flame, smoke a lot, and could melt the candle to one side and cause an unwanted loss of molten wax. It was important then to trim the wick; a householder would take pride in being able to use a pair of these scissors with the box incorporated to carefully slice the old burnt portion from the top of the wick, leaving it to still burn & illuminate below. The wick would be ‘snuffed’ in the metallic box, and cease to smoke; it could then be disposed of later, as once placed on the handy snuffer-tray it could be taken away by your servants to be disposed of once you were finished for the evening.

Pinchbeck’s 1776 Patent for candle snuffers in action

A particularly interesting pair can be traced to a 1776 patent by Christopher Pinchbeck, a London clock maker. His story is fascinating, a worthy subject of another blog post; his design both snuffed the offcut wick, and through the use of a levered ‘gate’, held the offensive black remnant securely. The snuffers above follow the design of his 1776 patent drawing closely, which he described as follows:

‘Some additions to those very useful domestic machines, called snuffers, by which those disagreeable circumstance of them dropping the wick after snuffing the candles, so generally complained of, is totally prevented’.

Pinchbeck’s 1776 Patent application.

Searching for examples online I was amused to find an ‘Ode to Pinchbeck’s Candle Snuffers’ – penned by “Malcolm McGreggor” – the pseudonym of political satirist William Mason – in 1776. This was of course the year of the American Revolution, and it is a direct attack on the sad state of affairs with the British smarting from the loss of their American colonies. So, the author calls on the latest high-tech invention to solve the problem:

‘Illustrious Pinchbeck I condescend,

Thou well beloved, and best King’s friend;

These Lyric lines to view.

Oh! may they prompt thee, e’re too late,

To snuff the candle of the State,

That burns a little Blue….

1776 ‘Malcom McGreggor’

It continues in this vein, bringing in the characters associated with the American Revolution, and suggesting that a very large snuffer could be the solution – to completely snuff out the pesky Rebels like Washington!

The deed is done, thy foes are dead,

No longer England shalt thou dread,

such Presbyterean Huffers;

Thy candle’s radiance ne’er shall fade,

with now & then a little aid,

from Pinchbeck’s Patent Snuffers!

1776 ‘Malcom McGreggor’

(If you’re curious, I have copied the original pamphlet onto a single page here – click to enlarge).

Ode To Mr Pinchbeck's Candle Snuffers, 1776
Old Sheffield Plate chamberstick
Old Sheffield Plate chamberstick, c. 1835

Finally, to find your way to bed through the darkened house, there was the chamberstick; these candlesticks are low and broad, giving the safest possible configuration to guard against the very real danger of accidental ignition of the furnishings. The handle and thumbpiece gives an excellent grip, and our example here has the original cone-shape snuffer, nice & handy to completely extinguish the flame when time came to sleep.


Paul & Glenys Rosenberg

Mathew Bugg

In other news….

We’re preparing a stunning Exhibition featuring several well established collections of early British & Continental Ceramics.

Date to be defined once the Australian Government settles on a definite date for the upcoming election, as we do not wish to compete for attention on the same day!

Featuring: Bow, Chelsea, Derby, Worcester, Isleworth, James Giles (on Chinese Porcelain), Swansea, Nantgarw, Spode, Newhall, etc. etc….. over 100 choice pieces to tempt.

A ‘Preview’ gallery will be accessible on our website shortly, keep your eye out for an upcoming email announcement.

Today’s Old Sheffield ‘Fresh Stock’

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