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Teapot

1892 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This teapot was made in about 1892 by Reed and Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts, USA. It was most likely part of a larger tea service. Sets including a coffee pot, teapot, cream jug and sugar bowl all matching this design were manufactuered by the company. The teapot is made from Britannia Metal, an inexpensive industrial metal that grew out of factory mechanisation developed in Sheffield in the 1760s. The teapot has also been electroplated or given a thin veneer of silver applied to the outside by electrolysis, a technique developed in Birmingham by Elkington in the 1840s. These technologies were exported around the world and Reed & Barton was one of the most successful and substantial factories in the US to adopt them.

Britannia Metal is an alloy consisting of between 92 and 97% tin with small amounts of antimony and copper. It could be cast, spun, hammered (raised or sunk), stamped, pierced, and engraved in ways other metals could not. From the 1840s, it was also used as a base for electroplate: an object with the mark EPBM on it denotes Electroplated Britannia Metal.

Britannia Metal's cheapness and ubiquity often leave it overlooked in histories of the metal trades but it was subject to all the same design influences as other metals and put mechanised product-design in more homes than ever before.


Object details

Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Electroplated Britannia Metal, stamped in sections with mechanically rolled patterns around the rim, and plated in silver, with an engarved inscription.
Brief description
Presentation teapot, electroplated Britannia Metal, by Reed & Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts, USA, about 1892, with oval cylindrical body with applied oval band as a foot, and rolled-stamped band of ornament or cusped, downwards-pointing arches with scrollwork and flowers around the upper rim, trumpet shaped lid, square-section handle with flattened top and 3-lobed finial, upwards curving spout in panelled sections, stamped 'MFD AND PLATED BY REED & BARTON' with pattern number 2845/7. The body is inscribed: 'Presented To Mr And Mrs Richards On Their Silver Wedding Feb 21st 1892 By Mr And Mrs Keates' and the teapot would most likely have been part of a larger tea and coffee service.
Physical description
Presentation teapot, electroplated Britannia Metal, by Reed & Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts, USA, about 1892, with oval cylindrical body with applied oval band as a foot, and rolled-stamped band of ornament or cusped, downwards-pointing arches with scrollwork and flowers around the upper rim, trumpet shaped lid, square-section handle with flattened top and 3-lobed finial, upwards curving spout in panelled sections, stamped 'MFD AND PLATED BY REED & BARTON' with pattern number 2845/7. The body is inscribed: 'Presented To Mr And Mrs Richards On Their Silver Wedding Feb 21st 1892 By Mr And Mrs Keates' and the teapot would most likely have been part of a larger tea and coffee service.
Dimensions
  • Height: 18.3cm
  • Length: 26.4cm
  • Width: 11.9cm
Production typeMass produced
Marks and inscriptions
  • Presented To MR & MRS RICHARDS on their SILVER WEDDING Feb 21st 1892 by MR & MRS KEATES (Inscribed in engraved cartouche on the body)
  • MF'D & PLATED BY / REED & BARTON / 2847 / 7 (Trademark stamped on the base of the teapot)
    Translation
    Manufactured and plated by Reed & Barton with the pattern number 2845 / 7
Credit line
From the David Lamb Collection: given in memory of David Lamb by Joan Lamb
Object history
This teapot was made in about 1892 by Reed and Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts, USA. It was most likely part of a larger tea service. Sets including a coffee pot, teapot, cream jug and sugar bowl all matching this design were manufactuered by the company. The teapot is made from Britannia Metal, an inexpensive industrial metal that grew out of factory mechanisation developed in Sheffield in the 1760s. The teapot has also been electroplated or given a thin veneer of silver applied to the outside by electrolysis, a technique developed in Birmingham by Elkington in the 1840s. These technologies were exported around the world and Reed & Barton was one of the most successful substantial factories in the US to adopt them.

Reed and Barton became the longstanding name of partnership that began as Babbitt and Crossman (1824-29), was succeeded by Crossman, West & Leonard (1829-30), became The Taunton Britannia Manufacturing Co. (1831-37) until Henry G. Reed and Charles E. Barton joined in 1837 and the company became known as Leonard, Reed & Barton. In 1840, Reed & Barton became sole partners. Based in Taunton, Massachusetts, the company mass-produced produced Britannia Metal, silverware, cutlery and electroplate. It also produced dinner wares in ceramics and glass. In the early 20th century, they also turned their attention to stainless steel. During the American Civil War (1861-65), Reed & Barton also produced large quantities of weapons for the Union army.

In an advertisement for their factory and showroom in Taunton, and their additional showroom at 686 Broadway, New York, they described themselves as 'REED & BARTON Manufacturers of fine Electro-Plated Table Ware of every description would invite special attention to the great variety of new and original designs in Dinner, Tea, and Water Sets, Epergnes,Cake and Fruit Dishes, Ice-Pitchers, Vases, Mantel Ornaments etc Suitable for Bridal and Other Presents' ('The Galaxy' Vol.21, Jan-Jun 1876). On the body of this teapot is an inscription saying, 'Presented To MR & MRS RICHARDS on their SILVER WEDDING Feb 21st 1892 by MR & MRS KEATES.' Although it was traditional to present silver for a silver wedding anniversary, the teapot is made primarlily from Britannia Metal, a tin alloy, and has been given a very thin veneer of silver. When new, it would have looked just like silver but would have been a fraction of the cost. It is not clear if it was Mr and Mrs Richards' budget or their warmth towards Mr and Mfrs Keates that only ran so deep.

Reed & Barton had a long history. As recently as 1996 they made the medals awarded at the Atlanta Olympics. The company survived right up until 2015 when its assets were acqured by a rival firm, The Lenox Company, which continued to market products under the Reed & Barton name, a tribute to the enduring legacy of the brand.
Historical context
Britannia Metal is an alloy consisting of between 92 and 97% tin with small amounts of antimony and copper. It was an inexpensive industrial metal that grew out of factory mechanisation developed in Sheffield in the 1760s. It could be cast, spun, hammered (raised or sunk), stamped, pierced, and engraved in ways other metals could not. It also acted as a 'white metal' base for electroplate from the late 1840s. Britannia Metal is highly instructive about manufacturing practices, factory collaborations and networks, competitive ingenuity, social change and aspiration, and the increase in public-facing product-consumption that is not always present in other materials.

BRITANNIA METAL ORIGINS

Materially at least, Britannia Metal is most like pewter, a soft tin alloy. Pewtersmithing is an ancient craft in which the vast majority of products were cast in moulds using traditional techniques regulated by one of the historic London guilds, the Worshipful Company of Pewterers. Moulds were expensive and styles persisted longer than in more adaptable materials. Britannia Metal was rarely cast, however, and was not regulated by a guild.

Britannia Metal is defined far more by mechanical production developed in the production of Sheffield Plate or fused plate. Sheffield Plate was first developed in the 1740s and is silver-plated copper where a copper ingot is plated with silver first and then rolled into a thin sheet to be worked into household goods. It could not be cast and excessive workmanship would pierce the thin veneer so the Sheffield Platers developed weight-driven and eventually hydraulic die-stamps and fly presses that meant designs could be formed and applied in one go with much more predictable regularity. As an industry, it did not come into its own until mid-century, high-relief Rococo designs give way to Robert Adam-inspired, flatter, plainer, interchangeable classical forms that could be produced in large numbers.

Classical designs could be created more easily and less expensively from sheet metal. The introduction of steam power (pioneered by James Watt for Matthew Boulton) and crucible steel (developed commercially by Benjamin Huntsman) equipped factories with more powerful rolling mills, encouraging 'white metal' workers to experiment with tin-alloys that could be rolled into sheets. In 1769 the Sheffield metalworker, James Vickers, began producing Britannia Metal after apparently being tipped off by 'a dying friend'. His first pieces wer emade under contract to Ebenezer Hancock and Richard Jessop. His trademark, 'I.VICKERS', is stamped on items made in his factory between 1769 and 1787, the earliest pieces of Britannia Metal in production.

A century later, the novelty of mechanised production had still not passed completely. In the 1886 novel 'Patience Wins' (Blackie & Son Ltd, London, Glasgow and Dublin, 1886) George Manville Fenn describes how the hero comes across a Britannia Metal factory: 'As I looked through into these works, one man was busy with sheets of rolled-out Britannia metal, thrusting them beneath a stamping press, and at every clang with which this came down a piece of metal like a perfectly flat spoon was cut out and fell aside, while at a corresponding press another man was holding a sheet, and as close as possible out of this he was stamping out flat forks, which, like the spoons, were borne to other presses with dies, and as the flat spoon or fork was thrust in it received a tremendous blow, which shaped the bowl and curved the handle, while men at vices and benches finished them off with files. ... in spite of the metal being cold, the heat of the friction, the speed at which it goes, and the ductility of the metal make it behave as if it were so much clay or putty."

Britannia metal's light robustness had also come to the attention of Charles Dickens. 'Pleasantry, sir!' exclaimed Pott with a motion of the hand, indicative of a strong desire to hurl the Britannia metal teapot at the head of the visitor. 'Pleasantry, sir! - But - no, I will be calm; I will be calm, Sir;' in proof of his calmness, Mr. Pott flung himself into a chair, and foamed at the mouth. ('The Pickwick Papers', Chapter 18)

Britannia Metal was therefore developed in Sheffield, a place with no distinctive pewter history, to harness the new factory machinery developed by the Sheffield Platers and became a national industry until the early decades of the twentieth century. The Britannia Metal makers could reach a much wider market with the same equipment. Britannia Metal was not as valuable as silver, not as convincing as Sheffield Plate, not as historic as pewter and not as robust as nickel silver but, industrially, was easier to produce than all of them. It combined the cheapness and accessibility of pewter with the state-of-the-art mass manufacturing methods of Sheffield Plate.

BRITANNIA METAL TRADE

Britannia Metal's cheapness and ubiquity have led to its neglect by art historians but it was subject to all the same design influences as other metals and ceramics and put mechanised product-design on more tables than ever before. Britannia Metal was the first metal developed during the industrial revolution to reach a wide cross-section of the population. The democratising elements of Sheffield Plate are too often overstated given the number of items that still included space for family crests. Within a few decades of its invention, Britannia Metal tea and coffee sets served travellers on railways, ships and stagecoaches and in the hotels and inns where they stayed. They smoked tobacco stored in Britannia Metal boxes. Taverns and restaurants served beer in Britannia Metal mugs. Communion services in less wealthy parishes used Britannia Metal cups during religious ceremonies.

The prevalence of tea and coffee services as early products of Britannia Metal, always with a sugar bowl, reflects the nation's sweetening tooth. Britannia Metal sugar bowls and tobacco boxes, cheaply produced in large numbers for an expanding market, also reflect the increasing demand for - and availability of - the products of empire, the growing consumption of both being primary drivers of the transatlantic slave trade. Britannia Metal production helped put sugar bowls and tobacco boxes on more tables than ever.

The Britannia Metal trade was not regulated in the same way as silver or pewter which were both controlled by guilds that kept a close eye on the quality of alloys and production. It came to occupy a grey area with much more freedom. Single workshops might use a variety of alloys for the different parts of objects they suited best.

When Elkington of Birmingham developed their patents for electroplating and electrogilding from the 1840s, Britannia Metal became a substrate along with nickel silver for electroplate. This technological advance was significant enough for James Dixon & Sons of Sheffield to show an electroplated Britannia Metal coffee pot at the Great Exhibition of 1851, an example of which is in the V&A's collection (M.23-1999). It was the growing ubiquity of materials like Britannia Metal that extended the reach of commercial product-design, a development that by the 1840s encouraged the early art educators of the Department of Science and Art, who later oversaw the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A) to take popular design seriously. Early Britannia Metal is a little-heralded but profoundly democratizing force in the history of product design.

It was not to everyone's taste however. Britannia metal was not as durable as other white metals such as German or nickel silver. 'A teapot ... costing seven or eight shillings, will probably not last twelve months, while a teapot of German silver, costing about three pounds, will last fifty years,' claimed the publication 'Cookery and Domestic Economy for Young Housewives' in 1845.

TRADEMARKS AND ADVERTISING

Britannia Metal makers were great markers of their products. Their marks were not a legally controlled guarantee of quality but an opportunity to advertise using and expanding on established conventions around assumptions of quality.

The tradition of using marks and advertising on the bases of their products owes more to pewter history than to the Sheffield Platers who rarely marked their products and were only obliged to for a brief period in the 1770s and 80s. The 'maker's mark' on a piece of Britannia Metal recalls the pewterer's 'touch mark', their legally enforceable guarantee that they would produce high quality metal with no lead it. The Britannia Metal maker's mark was a personal mark of quality rather than a legal guarantee. The habit many Britannia Metal workers had of changing their maker's mark every 15 or 20 years enables Britannia Metal products to be dated within accurate and narrow margins.

Like the pewterers, Britannia Metal makers also stamped on advertising slogans championing the quality of their products. Throughout the nineteenth century this advertising became more expansive. Many of them laud the technological miracle offered by a product. Philip Ashberry and Son's 'PATENT NON-CONDUCTING HANDLE' on teapots of around 1850 offered tea drinkers the promise of a cup of tea without blistered fingers. Broadhead & Atkin sold small, bachelor teapots for one with an 'ANTICALORIC HANDLE', a more obscure but convincingly technical way of making the same promise to its lonesome user. And from 1886, James Dixon & Sons 'J.J. Royle's PATENT SELF-POURING TEAPOT' with its oddly constructed spout that pours the tea when you press the lid, was an ingenious precursor of the modern-day percolator.

OLD BRITANNIA METAL

As Britannia Metal ages it dulls to a matt grey but when new was a reflective 'white metal'. It was not necessarily a substitute for silver but it catered for the same aesthetic for white metals. Lift the lid or peep under the foot of a dark grey Britannia metal teapot and areas that have been protected from the air or from damp will retain the lustre they had on the day they left the factory.

The wear and tear on antique Britannia Metal often reveals a long history of use. As it darkens it also reveals the tell-tale signs of manufacturing practices. Seams are visible on the bodies and spouts of teapots revealing how they were stamped in sections and soldered. Pierced sugar bowls and salts cellars show the use of the Sheffield Platers' fly press. Pear-shaped teapots and coffee pots from the 1840s show the advent of spinning on high-powered lathes as a method of production. These features enable close comparisons between matching models in silver, Sheffield Plate, brass, copper, pewter, Britannia Metal and electroplate. Britannia Metal, therefore, wears its construction processes openly enabling a history of mechanised metal manufacturing to be charted over the 150 years or so that it was in production.

THE DAVID LAMB COLLECTION

This piece is one of 24 Britannia Metal items (Museum Nos. M.26-49-2023) dating from 1770 to 1890, selected by the V&A in 2023 from the collection of the late David Lamb (1935-2021). They were presented as gift to the museum by Joan Lamb, David's wife. David Lamb was a Senior Lecturer and Reader in Pathology at Edinburgh University and a successful photographer and keen fisherman. He began collecting Britannia Metal in 1978 when he bought a teapot on a whim and began to research it. David was a prominent member of the Pewter Society and the Antique Metalware Society and volunteered and guided at the National Museum of Scotland. Among collectors he campaigned hard to counter a bias against Britannia Metal. David recognised early on that Britannia Metal is not simply a cheap tin-alloy that should be ignored by collectors but a game-changing, complex, democratising and aspirational product that is profoundly expressive of industrial, technological and social change. David was also quick to point out that although Britannia Metal owes much in its material properties to pewter, it was only natural it should develop as an industry in Sheffield, a place with no distinct pewter history, because its production methods owed far more to industrial Sheffield Plate manufacture than to pewtersmithing.

David was a committed and insatiable collector who also bought pewter, silver and snuffboxes in a variety of materials. As a collector it was his Britannia Metal collection - which grew to over 600 pieces - that made his name. As just about the only person collecting Britannia Metal, he was in the fortunate position of having little competition from collectors and of knowing far more than the people from whom he was buying. Even today, the pieces David collected are not of high financial value but they are of significant historical, technological and educational value.
Summary
This teapot was made in about 1892 by Reed and Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts, USA. It was most likely part of a larger tea service. Sets including a coffee pot, teapot, cream jug and sugar bowl all matching this design were manufactuered by the company. The teapot is made from Britannia Metal, an inexpensive industrial metal that grew out of factory mechanisation developed in Sheffield in the 1760s. The teapot has also been electroplated or given a thin veneer of silver applied to the outside by electrolysis, a technique developed in Birmingham by Elkington in the 1840s. These technologies were exported around the world and Reed & Barton was one of the most successful and substantial factories in the US to adopt them.

Britannia Metal is an alloy consisting of between 92 and 97% tin with small amounts of antimony and copper. It could be cast, spun, hammered (raised or sunk), stamped, pierced, and engraved in ways other metals could not. From the 1840s, it was also used as a base for electroplate: an object with the mark EPBM on it denotes Electroplated Britannia Metal.

Britannia Metal's cheapness and ubiquity often leave it overlooked in histories of the metal trades but it was subject to all the same design influences as other metals and put mechanised product-design in more homes than ever before.
Bibliographic references
  • David Lamb, 'Britannia Metal- Cinderella of Antiques', The Journal of the Pewter Society, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1985, pp. 1-12
  • David Lamb, 'Britannia Metal', The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, Volume 8, June 2000, pp. 18-23.
  • Jack Scott, Pewter Wares from Sheffield, Antiquary Press, 1980
Other number
2845 / 7 - Pattern number
Collection
Accession number
M.49-2023

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Record createdFebruary 27, 2023
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