A fashionable Georgian house included all the china and silver and gold plate necessary to entertain in a manner befitting the status of its owner. By the 1740s-1750s English china was becoming highly successful. Manufacturers began opening their own china showrooms to showcase their wares. Derby’s factory rooms in Bedford Street, Covent Garden included a large suit of elegant rooms, suitable for entertaining the nobility and gentry.
Josiah Wedgwood was also shrewd when it came to designing his showrooms, noting in 1767 the financial benefits ‘when business & amusement can be made to go hand in hand’. In his London showroom Wedgwood lined his glass cabinets with green baize and yellow paper to effectively set off his Black Basalt vases. Conscious of the value of repeat customers, Wedgwood emphasised the importance of changing displays regularly, so as to ‘render a whole new scene, even to the same company, every time they shall bring their friends to visit us’. Never one to miss an opportunity, Wedgwood’s showrooms included ‘pattern books’ for customers to peruse, publications which provided ‘pretty amusements for the ladies’ and, more importantly, the opportunity to generate further commissions.
Gold and silversmiths presented eighteenth-century shoppers with the ultimate in luxury. From small exquisite personalised snuff boxes through to large elaborate table decorations, they offered a spectacular range of objects to the wealthy discerning shopper. With such variety, gold and silversmiths learned to maximise the impact of the display of their goods. Floor to ceiling glass-fronted cupboards, known as presses, dramatically showcased the range and scope of products available, whilst nests of drawers, show-boards and oak drawers lined with velvet were used to present smaller items in the best possible light.
Eighteenth-century tourist Sophie von La Roche recorded her experience of visiting a London silversmith, whose ‘stock must be worth millions’. She exclaimed her pleasure at seeing the shop ‘full of sparkling gold and silver moulds and vessels’ and at the profusion of designs which enabled her to compare ‘the work of previous generations with up-to-date modern creations’ and enjoy ‘inventiveness and craftsmanship almost past imagination’ (Sophie von La Roche, Sophie in England, a translation of the passages on England in the Journal of a Journey through Holland and England, 1788).
www.vam.ac.uk – extensive gold and silver collections at the V&A Museum.
www.thebowesmuseum.org.uk/collections searchable database of the Bowes Museum collection including the famous 18th-century silver swan automaton by James Cox