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Covered urn

Covered urn

  • Place of origin:

    Birmingham (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1888 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Elkington & Co. (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Silver, Room 67, The Whiteley Galleries, case EXP

“The electrotypes are perfect; the finest lines, the most minute dots are as faithfully copied as the boldest objections” ---Art Journal, February 1844

Electrotypes are exact copies of metal objects. This new process was a by-product of the invention of electroplating (silver plating by electrolysis), which Elkington and Company patented in the 1840s.

As Penny Magazine wrote in 1844, the novelty of using electricity to create silver was difficult to understand 'in the sober light of industrial processes'. Early experiments, often by amateur scientists using Elkington’s home electroplating kits, involved coating fruit, flowers and animals in silver or gold 'with the most perfect accuracy'. They 'retained all the characteristics of the specimens before their immersion'. A lucrative market for recreating famous works of art in metal beckoned.

Henry Cole, the first director of the South Kensington Museum (V&A), quickly grasped the educational potential of this new technique. Elkington’s agreed to take moulds of historic objects in the Museum, create copies in a base metal and then electroplate them. These could be sold freely as reproductions, with a gold, silver or bronze finish, provided they bore the South Kensington Museum’s official stamp. To avoid breaking English hallmarking laws, all marks were to be deleted from copies of silver objects.

Elkington’s display of electrotypes at the 1867 Paris Exhibition proved extremely popular and prompted Cole to organise a Convention at which 14 European countries agreed to exchange works of art. Representatives of Elkington’s and the V&A sent staff to Germany, Sweden, France, Denmark and Hungary.

The most ambitious trip, to Moscow and St. Petersburg in 1880, secured copies of over 200 items from the Kremlin and the Hermitage, including the celebrated Jerningham Wine Cooler (Gallery 66) and Elizabethan and Stuart silver sent as ambassadorial gifts to the Tsars. By 1920 the V&A held over 1000 electrotypes. Copies toured the country as part of the museum’s educational programmes and were sold to the public and to museums and art schools.

The original of this covered urn dates from the 1780s and is in the Royal Collections. This electrotype copy was purchased for £18 from Elkington and Company.

Physical description

Original silver-gilt.

Place of Origin

Birmingham (made)


ca. 1888 (made)


Elkington & Co. (maker)

Materials and Techniques


Marks and inscriptions

Elkington and Company


Diameter: 13.5 cm base

Object history note

Original the property of the Royal Family, English c. 1780. Electrotype bought for £18.00.

Descriptive line


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

Angus Patterson, "The Perfect Marriage of Art and Industry: Elkingtons and the South Kensington Museum's Electrotype Collection", The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, Vol. 20, June 2012, pp. 56-77, ill. p. 58


Copper; Gold




Metalwork; Drinking


Metalwork Collection

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