Research on Antiques & Collectibles


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The increasing interest of collectors in the silver-ware of eighteenth-century England has stimulated intensified research into the lives and business of the craftsmen whose marks are impressed on their wares. The records of Goldsmiths' Hall in London, and of the principal assay offices in such provincial centers as York, Edinburgh, Birmingham, and Dublin, have provided us with a wealth of names of silversmiths who were working during the eighteenth century, though in many cases further records have been lost. We have a good deal of information about some of the most prominent craftsmen, like Paul de Lamerie and Paul Storr, not only because the high quality of their work has encouraged research but because their names figured in the accounts and archives of the wealthy and aristocratic families who were their patrons, with the result that their names were perpetuated in city records.

Until recently, however, little has been known of one of the major silversmiths whose work is becoming more and more sought after - Hester Bateman, the most famous woman silversmith of the second half of the eighteenth century. One of the difficulties has been that there were many families of Batemans in London at the time, which has made it extremely difficult to distinguish relationships and family trees.

For many years the works of Hester Bateman were thought to be those of a man. It was even suggested that the name Hester might be a corruption of Hector or some other masculine name, not because women craftsmen were unduly rare at that time (over a hundred have been recorded as working in the eighteenth century, though only a fraction of this number entered their marks at Goldsmiths' Hall), but simply because few records had been kept, and the various Bateman marks had at times been attributed to other craftsmen. Sir Charles Jackson, for instance, in his book on old silver, attributed the script mark HB to Henry Bailey (or Bayley) in 1760, though his mark was decidedly different and was first registered in 1750.

This attribution has now been discredited by the discovery of Hester's own registration at Goldsmith's Hall: ‘April 16, 1761, Hester Bateman in Bunnhill Row Her Mark’. Not only does this settle irrevocably the debated question of Hester's gender, but it antedates by some thirteen years the period at which she was formerly thought to have started work. It also reveals that she was unable to write, since she could only register her agreement by her initials.

The same form of signature appeared on Hester Bateman's will. This was discovered not long ago among the records at Somerset House by the Boston collector, Gushing Toppan, an enthusiast for all the work of Hester Bateman, whose painstaking efforts to clarify the historic details by searching old records has made this article possible. Hester Bateman's will, a lengthy document dated Julv 23, 1792, was proved in 1794 after her death, which occurred while she was living in the Parish of St. Andrew, Holborn. She apparently died at the shop of her daughter Letitia (or Lilitia), goldsmith and silversmith, who traded under the sign of the Eagle and the Pearl, just within the borders of the City of London, in the section known as Holborn Bar.

The next discovery was the will of Hester's husband, John Bateman, dated September 18, 1753, and proved on the day of his death, November 13, 1760. From this we learn that he was a "Chainmaker" - then a skilled branch of the silversmiths' art - and that he bequeathed "unto my loving wife, Easter Bateman all my household goods and implements." (The spelling of the name Hester was corrected in the amendment made to the will on proving, but such variations in spelling were common at the time.) Since he left Hester the tools of his trade, and since she registered her mark only five months after his death, it is not unreasonable to suppose that she was already a skilled craftsman. She seems to have carried on the business to support her family and to give them also a chance to inherit and learn a flourishing trade.

By intensive research it has been possible to find out a little more about the indomitable Hester. She was born in the reign of Queen Anne, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Neden, of whom little is known, although similar names - Nedom, Nedan, and Needham - are found associated with goldsmiths and silversmiths in London at that time. She was married at the Church of St. Botolph's, Aldersgate, in the City of London, in 1732. When her husband died in 1760, Hester had at least five children - Jonathan; Peter; probably John, who may have been connected with the business, although he is only recorded as a watch and clock-maker; Letitia, who married Richard Clarke; and Ann. Only Peter, Letitia, and Ann were still living at the time of Hester's death.

Peter and Jonathan both helped in the business, possibly from quite an early date, though Jonathan's mark was first registered along with Peter's in 1790. This partnership was of short duration. Jonathan, who married Ann Dowlinff, died in 1791. He left everything to his wife in his will dated January 4, 1776 and proved on August 13 of the same year.

In 1791 the mark was changed to Peter and Ann Bateman. That the Ann Bateman of the silver mark was Jonathan's widow and not either Peter's wife or Hester's daughter we know because Peter had married Alice Beavoir, and Hester's daughter Ann figures in the will as having married Richard Cottrill and already having a son of her own. There is also mention of a record for Hester Bateman and Company for the years 1790-1793, but it is more than probable that Hester, then about eighty, had already retired from any active part in the business, and indeed there is no silver known bearing her own mark after 1790.

It seems certain that William Bateman, who was previously thought to be another of Hester's children, was the son of Jonathan and Ann. He first registered his mark at Goldsmiths' Hall in connection with Peter and Ann in 1800, forty years after John Bateman had died, and since his mark continues for another forty years it is quite unlikely that he could have been John's son. At any rate he seems to have been taken into partnership with his mother and his uncle Peter and Ann in 1800, a partnership which came to an end five years later. Possibly Ann died at this time, for the mark then registered was just Peter and William Bateman. From 1815 to 1840 William is registered alone, except that in 1839 a mark is registered of William Bateman and Daniel Ball. After 1840 his son, also called William, carried on the business until 1850, when the line of Bateman silversmiths seems to have come to an end.

In view of her age, it is more than probable that much of the later work with the ‘HB’ mark was done by the family rather than by Hester herself. The definite simplification of the decoration and lines of Bateman silver dates from about 1785. It has been suggested that this may have been due to Hester's going blind, but it is more likely to have been caused by the general trend towards a more sophisticated simplification brought about bv the Greek classical influence of the brothers Adam, inspired by the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii (ancient colonies of Greece in Italy). The tendency towards simplification, which was quickly becoming manifest in all branches of art in England, was accentuated by the firm, whose work had always been characterized by restraint. It is partly this quality, indeed that has made Bateman silver so much sought after today.

The early work of Hester Bateman, which consisted mainly of small pieces such as spoons, forks, and serving pieces, is characterized by a distinct charm on her series of teaspoons, sometimes with a small flower engraved on the back or the bowl. Another specialty was the spoons decorated with a small embossed bird flying from an open cage with the legend ‘I Love Liberty’. Early silver by Hester Bateman is extremely rare. Most of her work found today seems to date from after about 1774.

The contemporary custom of piercing, frequently seen in Bateman silver, may be noted in some cream pails, where the piercing reveals a Bristol glass liner. The classical simplicity of Bateman silver is seen in several silver teapot stands she made. Magnificent silver tableware is well represented by pierced servers the sauceboats, while the simplicity of the more solid pieces can be shown in lovely silver porringers. Silver wine labels by Hester, usually reveal mastery of small pieces. All of this family’s silver pieces illustrate an interesting way the close affinity of the work done by different members of the Bateman family. The distinctive character of the Bateman silverware is not confined to that made by Hester herself but seems to have been transmitted to her children and successors There must always be a certain expected parallels between such conventionalized pieces as tankards, but most have a remarkable similarity, in view of the fact that they were made by different craftsmen at different times.

The close similarity of style in the work of successive generations of the Bateman family may also be judged from other silver pieces they made. Work done by Peter and Ann Bateman in 1791, while Hester was still alive, can be seen in some little dish warmers or dish crosses, which show how even a utilitarian device can be given elegance in the right hands. Examples of their more elaborate work, following Hester's preference for banded decoration appear in several Greek classical urns and coffeepots decorated with Prince of Wales feathers. Almost contemporary with these, but in a style which had fast become popular many years before, are the many sweetmeat dishes in the form of a shell.

Items of less aesthetic value, but indicating the variety of articles made, are dish wedges, some of which bear the mark of Peter, Ann, and William. There are already signs here of the heavier treatment that was soon to become evident in almost all forms of art, but there is still that feeling for broad planes and simple decoration which distinguishes the earlier work of the family. The family influence was still evident and coherent throughout the careers of the Bateman family’s silver creations.

There is still much to be learned about that remarkable woman, Hester Bateman, and her silver-smithing descendants, and many of our conclusions are subfect to further research. It is to be hoped, however, that it will not be long before the many enthusiasts for Bateman silver will be provided with a more detailed and certain history.

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