From the earliest times, learning how to construct
simple and complex geometric shapes has been part of the training of a silversmith. Moreover,
the educated patron of 300 years ago was also likely to be well versed in geometry and able to
appreciate the subtleties of design of a seemingly simple cream jug or sugar bowl. Many
functional objects in what became known as the “Queen Anne” style rely for effect on polygons,
multifoils, ellipses, and truncated pyramids and cones.
Curiously, however, books on the history of European silver have been silent on the subject of
geometry and the process by which design is transmitted via the workbench to a finished silver
object has scarcely been explored. In his introductory essay, Christopher Hartop suggests that
many of the geometric forms that became popular in the early eighteenth century were in fact
modelled on imported Asian ceramics and lacquer, some of which in turn were copying much
earlier metal wares. Yet a silversmith still needed a knowledge of geometrical constructions,
whether he was copying an imported object, following a design on paper, or utilizing a template.
Using the Domcha Collection of predominantly English seventeenth- to nineteenth-century silver
as examples, this new study examines the role of geometry in the design and manufacture of
silverware. The striking coffee pot on the jacket is a truncated octagonal pyramid, and the octofoil
salver illustrated below achieves its pleasing effect through the intersection of four ellipses
with common centre.
The Domcha Collection, formed during the last 25 years, shows the timeless beauty of plain
silver forms, where the emphasis is on line rather than ornament. The collection includes works
by Paul de Lamerie, Paul Crespin, Frederick Kandler and the Hennell family. Silver made in
Ireland and Scotland is also featured, as well as provincial English silver made in York,
Sheffield and Newcastle. Some of the objects themselves are very unusual, such as a retractable
George III reading lamp, a George I wine-bottle stand and a Dublin-made frame for six eggs.