During the years spanning 1760 to 1820 almost sixty silversmiths manufactured silver in Cork city. By 1840 none existed until William Egan & Sons revived the trade seventy- one years later, sparked by a commission for a new mace from the president of University College Cork, Sir Bertram Windle. The rise and fall of this phenomenon has parallels with the social and economic history of the city and beyond.
Carden Terry was perhaps the best known and skilled silversmith of this generation gaining experience of his craft in Dublin and London before finally settling in Cork in 1770. He operated from the North Main Street with his son-in-law John Williams.
After the demise of both craftsmen Jane Williams, Carden’s daughter / John’s wife, continued the business in to the 1820’s. Their family hallmark of CT & IW identifies some of the most accomplished production of neo-classical silver in Ireland and included tureens, jugs, sauceboats, teapots and bright-cut table ware.
One of the most reassuring features of the production of solid silver is hallmarking.
When a silversmith finishes creating an item of silver it is sent to the assay office in Dublin to ensure the metal used is 92.5% solid silver and after verification and tax duties paid four punches are impressed on to the product.
The first is the Harp Crowned to denote the Dublin assay office approval, then a seated figure of Hibernia to signify duties paid followed by the silversmith’s initials and finally a letter to denote the year. The introduction of hallmarking in 1637 was the first quality control system introduced for consumer goods to maintain standards and prevent fraud.
Mustard Spoon CT&IW 1816
A major influence on the design of Cork silver was the arrival of Huguenot craftsmen in the late seventeenth century. Names such as Robert Goble, Charles Begheagle and Adam Billon laid the early foundations of the great trade and manufacture of silver as they introduced finely chased repoussé decoration.
The popularity of silverware as household items and tableware evolved during the 1700s as Cork merchants prospered and required domestic adornments displayed on dark polished furniture in their newly built mansions and villas as evidence of wealth and social standing.
Indeed the range of domestic silverware broadened widely in response to a growing market to include pickle forks, basting spoons, shoe buckles, christening mugs, cigarette cases, chocolate pots, to name but a few. This is in stark contrast to the meagre output of silverware prior to 1730 that existed only to serve the ecclesiastical market.
As the golden age of trade in Cork during the 1700s depended on the British crown fighting various wars with France and in New England, relative peace was bad news for the provisions trade that supplied war ships and troops with pork, butter and other essentials through Cork harbour.
Events nationally, such as the Act of Union in 1800 meant the political classes were required in London rather than Dublin and mass production of silverware brought about by the industrial revolution in Sheffield, Birmingham and London meant Irish silversmiths couldn’t compete.
Eagan’s of Patrick Street revived the manufacture of silver from 1911 before ceasing production in 1986 and finally closing their premises in 1988.
Chased pear-shaped cream jug by John Nicholson, Cork, c.1765