The Croll Testimonial: An introduction

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The Croll Testimonial is a parcel gilt Victorian silver rosewater fountain designed as a table centerpiece and presented t0 the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers by 1883 by Col. Alexander Angus Croll who was Master of the Company in 1877 and 1885.

Croll was Chairman of the United Kingdom Telegraph Co. and in 1870 negotiated its sale to the Government, making the shareholders rich and moving them, in gratitude, to present him with the Testimonial. I recently helped dismantle the Testimonial with painstaking care and a very big spanner, before it was brought to West Dean.  While it is here I will be responsible for its care and conservation.  I have only just begun the process of condition assessment, numbering and photographing every component and developing an efficient methodology for treatment and when all this is done I will be able to submit a treatment proposal to the object’s owners. It occurred to me that as the Testimonial was made and hallmarked in London, the trip to West Sussex might be the furthest it has ever travelled. To call this object eye-catching would be something of an understatement; it stands about four feet high and is elaborately decorated on the theme of transatlantic telegraphic communications.  Swags of gilt telegraph cable festoon the fountain basin beneath which two pairs of putti are seated on either side of a globe, operating telegraph machines.  One of the four female figures reclining around the base holds a blueprint in one hand and a battery cell in the other.  This is very much a piece of its time; a neoclassical extravaganza with nods to the Gothic, unreservedly celebrating a dawning era of new technology. The Testimonial suffered bomb damage in WW2 and despite subsequent restoration the fountain basin is still deformed.  Previous restoration work also involved re-polishing all of the silver figures despite the fact they appear to have originally been a matt white.  This dead white frosted effect is created on silver by repeatedly heating the metal and pickling it in acid and would have created a striking contrast between the figures and the bright polished body of the fountain.  The re-finishing combined with a thick coat of lacquer gives the surface an a-tonal, plasticky appearance dotted with areas of black sulphides (tarnish) where the lacquer has been scratched or flaked away.

[caption id="attachment_149" width="300" caption="Detail of some of the decoration, photographed 2011. Images reproduced by kind permission of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers"]

The treatment of the Croll Testimonial is likely to be fairly interventive and raises some ethical questions. Is it acceptable to re-finish an object, just because it has been wrongly re-finished before? The design and history of this piece are far more unique than the manner in which it was made, so should they be given greater weight in decision-making?

At present I am only familiarizing myself with this extraordinary piece, and I intend to write more about it throughout the next few months as treatment progresses.