THE Company of Goldsmiths of Dublin was incorporated by Royal Charter of Charles I in 1637 and Ireland’s main period of output for domestic silver was from then until around 1900.
The Harp Crowned indicated that silver was the correct 92.5% purity, the sterling standard. From 1730 the figure of Hibernia was struck. Date letters were also stamped, but before 1770 these were used with much irregularity.
The use of silver for domestic items did not really develop until after 1670 and items of silver from the 17th century are rare. Candles were the only form of artificial light and candlesticks were important, as was the two handled cup used for drinking celebratory toasts.
The Hugeunot silversmiths who fled to Ireland after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, brought with them new ideas, a refinement in styles of silver, and the baluster shape. The 18th century brought with it an Irish age of elegance and a band of silversmiths whose work has never been surpassed.
Domestic silver was at is plainnest from 1705 to 1740, the Rococco style, which was established in England in the 1720′s came to Ireland around 1740. This was in turn supplanted by the neo-classical style from around 1770. By the end of the 18th century taste was changing again in favour of heavily decorated items of silver and the Celtic Revival was in vogue from the 1850′s.
All silver should have been sent to Dublin for testing, but this was not always either practical or possible. The word Sterling was adopted as the mark for Cork silver during the 18th century. Provincial Irish silver is sought after by collectors and attracts premium prices.
Dish rings are sometimes wrongly called potato rings. The forerunner of the table mat they were designed to have hot plates put on top of them, not inside. But in Ireland a liner was added and they were used for serving potatoes.
As part of the Cork 2005 celebrations, a unique exhibition “Airgeadóir – four centuries of Cork silver and gold” – took place at the Crawford Art Gallery. Sponsored by The Bowen Group, Airgeadóir brought together for the first time over 250 examples of the work of Cork’s silversmiths and goldsmiths. Pieces were lent by museums, church authorities, public bodies, corporations and a number of private collectors.
Some of the most antique items displayed were communion cups, chalices and other items of church silver, including items dating from the early 1600’s. Domestic silver, ranging from large soup tureens to tiny spoons, was at the core of the Airgeadóir exhibition. There were coffee and teapots, trays, nutcrackers, asparagus tongs, tankards, sugar bowls, salvers, mugs, beakers, tea caddies, sauceboats, and mustard pots. Styles progressed from plain well-fashioned items of elegance in the 1600s and early 1700s through the exuberant rococo style of the middle of the century, which in turn gave way to the neo-classical style of the 1785-1815 period.