Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Cruet set

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1780 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Sheffield Plate, rolled, stamped and pierced, cut-glass

  • Museum number:

    M.432 to D-1910

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Cruet sets served condiments on the dining table and from the eighteenth century were frequently made to match the rest of the dinner service. Sets with bottles served oil, vinegar and soy while others also had casters for serving sugar and spices.

This frame of this cruet set is made from Sheffield Plate, a laminated copper sheet plated with silver. Invented in Sheffield in the 1740s, Sheffield Plate involved joining by heat a thin layer of silver to a block of copper. The block was rolled into sheet and worked as one metal. Sheffield plate had great commercial advantages over earlier attempts to imitate silver. It was easier and cheaper to make and gave the consumer the appearance of silver without the expense. Machines such as the fly press for pierced work on baskets, cruets, inkstands and salts, and steel dies to stamp designs on sheets of Sheffield plate or silver sped up production and opened up silver-style goods to a broader market.

Physical description

Cruet stand of copper plated with silver (Sheffield Plate) with two cut glass bottles (the stoppers renewed). The two cylindrical bottle holders are pierced with curved fern leaf ornament and baluster pattern borders and rest on a stand with four ball and claw feet decorated with pearled edges. A loop handle with long stem rises from the middle of the stand and the bottles have handles and neck mounts of Sheffield Plate.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

ca. 1780 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Sheffield Plate, rolled, stamped and pierced, cut-glass

Dimensions

Height: 24.8 cm

Object history note

This cruet set served condiments on the dining table. From the eighteenth century these sets were frequently made to match the rest of a dinner service. Sets with bottles served oil, vinegar and soy while others also had casters for serving sugar and spices.

Historical context note

Sheffield plate originated with the discovery in 1742 by a working cutler of Sheffield, Thomas Boulsover (1704-88), that bars of silver and copper, in unequal proportions, fused by heating under pressure, could be rolled into sheets of laminated metal and worked like silver. The industry this material created, flourished for approximately one hundred years until superseded by electroplating in the 1840s.

The process Joseph Hancock (1711-1790) developed for the large-scale production fused plate (Sheffield plate) differed little throughout the course of the industry. An ingot of copper was covered with a thin sheet of sterling silver. These ingots were approximately 1½ to 1¾ inches thick and 2½ inches wide by 8 inches long. This could vary according to the weight and size of the plated sheet that was required to be made. Generally speaking however, the thickness of the silver sheet was 1/40 that of the copper block which meant that 10-12 oz of silver was used for every 8 lbs of copper.

Sheffield plate had great commercial advantages over earlier attempts to imitate silver: French plating, close plating and silvering. It was easier and cheaper to make and gave the consumer the appearance of silver without the expense. There was no social stigma attached to buying Sheffield plate rather than silver, but its durability was questioned. In 1774 Horace Walpole wrote critically to Horace Mann, `Birmingham covers for dishes ... All plated silver wears abominably and turns to brass like the age. You would not bear it six months.' To which Mann replied,`I am sorry to see you disapprove of the double plate covers for dishes. I was persuaded to get them by those who assured me they could not be distinguished and for such use would be as lasting as silver.'

By 1800, factories operated in Sheffield, Birmingham, London, Paris and St. Petersburg. Powerful machinery made the process more efficient. Improved flatting mills rolled the plated copper into thinner, cheaper sheets. Advances in the steel industry provided better equipment for stamping out decorative patterns. Dishes and tureens were produced in great quantities at a fraction of their cost in silver.

Traditionally, metal goods were produced in a network of small, complementary workshops. An object might pass through several of these before it was finished. From the mid-eighteenth century this changed, as entrepreneurs created large factories where all the skills could be contained under one roof. Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) claimed that his Soho factory in Birmingham had: `seven or eight hundred persons employ'd in almost all those Arts that are applicable to the manufacturing of all the metals... I have almost every machine that is applicable to those Arts. I have two Water mills employed in rolling, polishing, grinding and turning various sorts of laths.' (letter to James Adam 1 Oct. 1770)

These new manufactories which grew up outside London, in Birmingham and Sheffield exploited new technology to create cheaper products. A significant technical innovation for the 18th-century metalworker, pre-dating Sheffield plate, was the rolling or flatting mill. By producing uniform sheet metal, these mills eliminated the need to raise silver by hand. The result was thinner gauge, cheaper silver. Manufacturers not only employed this technology but developed a number of highly successful new techniques for making and decorating Sheffield plate, some of which spread to silversmithing. Machines such as the fly press for pierced work on baskets, cruets, inkstands and salts, and steel dies to stamp designs on sheets of Sheffield plate or silver sped up production and opened up silver-style goods to a broader market.

Descriptive line

Cruet set of Sheffield Plate with two cut glass bottles, pierced with curved leaf ornament, Sheffield or Birmingham, ca. 1780

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Angus Patterson, "A Timely Acquisition: The V&A's Matthew Boulton Pattern Book, ca. 1779", Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, Vol. 17, June 2009, pp. 58-75, p. 65 ill.

Production Note

Probably Sheffield or Birmingham

Materials

Copper; Silver; Glass

Techniques

Plating; Rolling; Piercing; Stamping

Categories

Containers; Eating; Food vessels & Tableware; Household objects; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.