COLLECTION: Revolution in Taste

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Origin: England, Sheffield
OH: 10 1/8"; L (base): 4 7/8"; W (base): 3 1/2"
Pewter; ivory/bone; wood; linen
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1994-98,A&B
Pewter coffeepot of oval plan; lenticular ivory/bone finial of oval plan on short balustroidal support secured to top of cover with central pewter post with capped upper end and lower end extending through cover with flush solder attachment; tall domed cover with engraved calyx of leaves and circular vent hole below finial and delicate engraved border around lower edge; cover attached toward handle with five-knuckle hinge with knuckles faceted; cover seated into molded rim of concave shoulder with interior line of wriggle engraving; lower edge of shoulder faceted with delicate border of scalloped hatching above; band of ogival outline above plain urn-shaped body of oval plan constructed in halves; deeply-engraved border of running vine design at top of body with decorative cartouche of lozenge shape (left vacant) engraved below in center of either side; calyx of leaves engraved around base of body; body supported on tall pedestal base of oval plan with decorative border engraved above concave shoulder; base closed on underside with recessed plate; body fitted with long tapered S-shaped spout with drilled perforations in body behind spout; spout made in halves with raised ridge at joint on upper and lower sides; decorative engraving on sides of spout and around attachment with body; painted loop-shaped wooden handle with pronounced voluted finger grip fitting pewter sockets with molded outer ends; vertical sleeve with narrowly flanged lower edge within rim of body to support filtration bag; cotton/linen filtration bag sewn to perforated strip pewter frame with arched bail in center. Uninscribed as to owner. A: coffeepot, B: filtration bag
Label:The pewter trade was surprisingly unknown in Sheffield, one of England's principal metalworking centers, when James Vickers opened his shop on Hollis Street in 1769. According to the later reminiscence of Sheffield manufacturer Charles Dixon, Vickers acquired in that same year for five shillings "the recipe for making white metal." This is the supposed beginning of the Britannia metal industry. Dixon placed emphasis on the recipe, but from tests of early Britannia metal wares, it appears that Britannia metal varied little from white and hard metals used particularly for flatwares, such as plates and dishes. It contains over 90% tin with the remainder predominantly antimony, sometimes with smaller amounts of copper and/or zinc.

Vickers and the other early makers of Britannia metal in Sheffield consciously emulated the appearance of early neoclassic wares in silver and silverplate, especially those for the service of tea and coffee. The new technologies of the silverplate industry were adopted, in particular the cold rolling of the metal into workable sheet and the use of steel forming dies in shaping parts. Even so, some elements, as well as entire objects, were still sometimes made by traditional cast methods well into the nineteenth century. The body of this pot was made from sheet in two halves with a seam running behind the spout and the handle attachments. (Part of this soldered seam can be seen just below the opened cover). The raised fillet on the upper and lower sides of the spout masks and strengthens the seams.

Britannia metal manufacturers borrowed another feature from the silverplaters. Vertical collars with turned-in lower edges are often attached within the rims of fused silverplated coffeepots and coffee biggins made after the mid 1780s. They not only reinforce the insubstantial plated bodies but also support the frame for a filter bag. This coffeepot retains this feature with the rare survival of its original linen bag.

Characteristic of the fashionable appearance of early Britannia metal is the prevalence of engraved friezes and incidental decoration in the neoclassic taste. The running borders and the dense cartouche for the owner's initials are taken from the engraved let-in borders and soldered-in shields of thicker metal used for this type of engraving on fused silverplate, especially of the 1790-1805 period. Some of the edges are finely faceted to simulate the appearance and effect of narrow bright-cut borders.