Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Figure - Billy and Charley

Billy and Charley

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1850s (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Smith, William (maker)
    Eaton, Charles (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Lead figure, in spreading garment reaching to feet, holding a vase upon her head with both hands.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1850s (made)


Smith, William (maker)
Eaton, Charles (maker)

Materials and Techniques


Historical context note

In 1858 at a meeting of the British Archaeological Association the Southwark antiquary Syer Cuming drew members attention to what he described as "Recent Forgeries in Lead". His investigations and a subsequent court case revealed that two young shore-rakers named William Smith and Charles Eaton had manufactured and sold a large number of bogus antiquities to an antique dealer between 1857 and 1858. These objects were supposed to have been found during excavations for the new dock at Shadwell, London. They show a considerable variety in design ranging from flat circular discs - apparently imitating medieval pilgrim badges to bogus reliquaries. The objects were cast in plaster moulds, usually in lead alloy, possibly plumber's solder,or in an alloy of copper, zinc and lead known as "cock-metal". Some have been dipped in acid and coated with river mud to give the impression of age. However in spite of their grotesque appearance and numerous anachronisms - particularly in lettering and dates - a number of prominent antiquaries were deceived by these objects. One went so far as to state in open court that it was difficult to say what actual use was originally made of such articles because they were a new class altogether, but they were all evidently connected with some religious proceedings and he had no doubt that when the subject came to be considered antiquaries would be able to assign some origin to them.

William Smith had apparently been selling objects found in the Thames to curiosity dealers as early as 1845 but his partnership with Charles Eaton appears to date from some years later. They apparently worked in Rosemary Lane, Tower Hill. Accounts of the number of these fake antiquities produced vary, but it seems likely that at least 2,000 different objects were produced, including necklaces made from fragments of pottery, and clay figures. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a representative collection of these curiosities and other examples are to be found in The Museum of London and in the Cuming Museum, Southwark.

Descriptive line

Figure, 'Billy and Charley', William Smith and Charles Eaton, London, 1850s

Production Note

William Smith and Charles Eaton worked at Rosemary Lane, Tower Hill, London, in partnership about 1857-1858.




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.