Studying an object from the Edward James Collection: Silver porringer

By Finn Banwell, Foundation Degree Arts - Metalwork student

I first became interested in metalwork when I visited a Japanese silversmith’s workshop. Whilst exploring Kyoto, I found “Artsmith”, a local shop selling a variety of craft pieces and very detailed, intricate examples of metalwork. Also, in this shop, was a workshop, where the Craftsman and owner of the shop could go about his work in plain sight of the customers. It was fascinating to see the processes and time that went into their creation and this inspired me to ask to make something for myself with the help of the shop owner.

From this experience, I decided to study metalwork in greater depth, and this led me to West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, where I am currently a first-year FdA Metalwork student. One of the unique opportunities we have is to look at and handle objects from the Edward James Collection (the former owner of West Dean), which contains many fascinating artefacts and objects he had acquired throughout his travels. One item that I was immediately drawn to was a silver porringer. I am really interested in the techniques used to make this object, the context behind it and what makes it special.

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Edward James' silver porringer.
Edward James' silver porringer.

Similar to me, until very recently, you probably didn’t know what a porringer is or what it’s used for. A porringer is a small vessel, often made of wood, ceramic or silver, depending on the wealth of the owner. They have handles either side and were used to store bread, fruit, milk and other similar things. Throughout history, they have regularly been given as wedding gifts, or in this case, christening gifts. They were often used to feed young children as they are relatively small and the handles on each side make it easy for children to hold them - they sort of resemble modern day baby bottles with the handles. This porringer caught my eye because of the incredibly intricate shape of both the porringer body and the handles. Also, how carefully it has been looked after. It is in very good condition despite it being over 100 years old. From the engraving on the lid, it is clear that this silver Porringer was gifted to Edward James on the day of his christening by the “mothers” of West Dean. These aspects together show that Edward was born into extreme wealth and was in line to inherit the whole West Dean estate.

 The personalised engraving on the lid.
The personalised engraving on the lid.

This porringer has been expertly crafted and is a perfect example of raising silver to create a vessel. It has two cast silver handles and some very intricate detailing created by embossing the silver and the personalised engravings. Something very striking about this porringer is the symmetry. Being crafted by hand, you may expect some small differences either in the decoration or the handles, however, there are none. It is clear that the makers heart and soul went into this piece and it was clearly a very expensive gift at the time.

Cast silver handles soldered onto the porringer.
Cast silver handles soldered onto the porringer.

The makers, Mappin and Webb, are some of the best in the business and have been given Royal Warrants from 5 successive British Monarchs, which makes it even more impressive that Edward James would get an item so valuable and special when he was just a child. Studying this piece of silverwork has inspired me to try raising and many more of these techniques for myself when the workshops are open for use again.

Foundation Degree Arts - Metalwork

On the Foundation Degree Arts - Metalwork course, you will develop well-rounded metalworking theory and skills that will enhance your employment prospects or allow you to continue your studies in higher education. This is a full time course over two academic years.

Find out more at an upcoming Virtual Open Day - 10th or 17th March. Register your place.