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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Ashtray; silver; hand-raised in the form of a spread-eagled male figure, the head made in two parts soldered together; foot-ring on the underside.

  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 1879-1880 (designed;circa)
    • 1881 (made)
  • Production place

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 17 centimetres
    • Width: 11 centimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Type

      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Transliteration

      • Inscription Comment

      • Inscription Type

        maker's mark
      • Inscription Position

      • Inscription Content

      • Inscription Transliteration

        Thomas Johnson
      • Inscription Comment

  • Curator's comments

    Text from J. Rudoe, 'Decorative Arts 1850-1950. A catalogue of the British Museum collection'. 2nd ed. no.82
    Following his visit to Japan in 1877 Dresser supplied designs to a number of metalwork firms. Many of his metalwork designs are essays in the development of bold, geometric shapes inspired by Far Eastern models, such as the spun-brass candlestick ('Decorative Arts 1850-1950 Cat. 94) or the rectangular teapot (Cat. 90), but adhering to the doctrine of fitness for purpose outlined in his 'Principles of Decorative Design', ( London 1873). The strikingly original shapes of many of his vessels relate directly to his theory of 'the law governing the application of handles and spouts to vessels': the handle and spout should form a right-angle through the centre of gravity, so that the weight of the vessel is well balanced during pouring (Principles 139-42). Examples of this principle may be seen in Cat. 85, 90-91. Dresser's electroplated nickel-silver metalwork also illustrates his concern to design for industrial processes: the body and feet of the rectangular teapot (Cat. 90) are cut from one sheet of metal; in other cases, standardised elements are used for handles, spouts and Dresser's characteristic claw-feet. The electroplate wares generally have minimal decoration and ebonised wood or ivory handles, often in the form of a cylindrical or square-section bar, derived from Japanese bamboo handles.
    Dresser supplied designs for electroplated wares to Hukin & Heath of Birmingham and London, and James Dixon & Sons of Sheffield, while Elkington & Co. of Birmingham made both silver and electroplated wares to Dresser's designs. The copper and brass wares were made by Benham & Froud of London or Perry & Co. of Wolverhampton.
    The firm of Hukin & Heath (1855-1953) was established by Jonathan Wilson Hukin and John Thomas Heath as manufacturing silversmiths and electroplaters. They entered silver marks in London in 1879, by which time they had established showrooms at 19 Charterhouse Street, Holborn (J.Culme, 'The Directory of Gold & Silversmiths, Jewellers and Allied Traders 1838-1914', Woodbridge 1987, 1, 243). The firm's collaboration with Dresser was noted by 'The Art Journal'. 1879, 222: the showrooms were described as 'redolent of art', while the art works were produced without increasing the cost, exhibiting 'grace combined with the useful, simplicity and purity of form with readiness of application to the purposes to which they are to be applied'. Hukin & Heath also apparently made reproductions of Persian and Japanese models 'by the electric process' (i.e. electrotyped): 'such specimens, being selected by Dr Dresser, are of course always beautiful examples of art'. Hukin & Heath's trade mark comprised the initials 'H & H' with an eagle; they registered designs by Dresser from 1878 until at least 1881 and the models were produced into the early 1900s. The firm's design books were destroyed before it closed down in 1953. Hukin & Heath also had silver wares executed to Dresser designs which were hallmarked in London (Birmingham 1973, City Museum and Art Gallery, 'Birmingham Gold and Silver 1773-1973', nos E3-10).
    The firm of James Dixon & Sons of Sheffield was founded c.1806, initially working in Britannia metal only and later in silver and electroplate as well. London showrooms were opened in 1873 at 37 Ludgate Hill. The firm was still trading in 1987 (for a full account, see Culme 1987, 1, 121-3. The trade mark of James Dixon & Sons comprised the initials 'J.D. & S' with a bugle; they appear to have registered designs by Dresser from 1880 and these were produced at least until 1885, when a trade catalogue containing many of Dresser's models was issued. This catalogue was included in the 1979 London exhibition on Dresser (M. Collins, 'Christopher Dresser 1834-1904. exhibition catalogue, Camden Arts Centre and Dorman Museum, Middlesborough' London 1979, no. 55, with ill.). For a second page from the catalogue, see R. Joppien, 'Christopher Dresser, ein Victorianische Designer', exhibition catalogue, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Cologne 1981, 34. A costing book of Dixon & Sons, dating from 1879, and containing photographs of electroplated wares designed by Dresser, was included in the 1972 London exhibition on Dresser (R. Dennis and J. Jesse, 'Christopher Dresser 1834-1904', exhibition catalogue, Fine Art Society, London 1972, back cover). The costing book indicated that not all of Dresser's designs were put into production (S. Bury 'The Silver Designs of Dr.Christopher Dresser',Apollo1962, 766-70). However, the present location of both these documents is unknown.
    Further designs by Dresser for Dixon & Sons may be seen in pages from Dresser's design and account book, dated 1881 (N. Pevsner, 'Minor Masters of the XIXth Century: Christopher Dresser, Industrial Designer', Architectural Review 1937, pl. 7 and Joppien, 1981, 22-3, also now unlocated).
    Many of Dresser's silver and electroplate designs were registered for protection by the firms who purchased them; the pieces therefore bear diamond-shaped design registration marks incorporating the date on which the design was registered, together with the parcel number which identified the manufacturer or registration agent (the Registers of Ornamental Designs may be consulted at the Public Record Office at Kew). Most examples with such marks also bear the facsimile signature of Christopher Dresser, probably at his insistence.
    The metalwork is grouped as follows: silver, Cat. 82-3; electroplate by Hukin & Heath, Cat. 84- 9; electroplate by James Dixon & Sons, Cat. 90-93; copper and brass, Cat. 94-5.

    Ashtray. Designed c. 1879-80 and made by the firm of Thomas Johnson, London in 1881.
    For a vessel of the same shape executed in earthenware by Linthorpe Pottery and for discussion of the source for this shape, see Cat. 96. No other silver version has yet been recorded.
    The firm of Thomas Johnson, smallworkers, is recorded c. 1850-98. This mark was entered in November 1881, when the firm was at 32 John Street, Bedford Row, trading under the style of Johnson, Sons & Edmunds. They made a wide range of silver small work and supplied several retailers including Thornhill of New Bond Street (see Culme 1987, 1, 260-61 and 11, 291-2).

    See also OA.10711


  • Bibliography

    • Rudoe 1994 82 bibliographic details
    • Rudoe 1991 82 bibliographic details
  • Location


  • Condition

    Traces of repair to the join between the head and the tray.

  • Conservation

    See treatments 

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Britain, Europe and Prehistory

  • Registration number



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Object reference number: MCT4836

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