Birmingham became one of the main centres for the trade and manufacturer of brass. Large profits were to be made from brass and the numbers of foundries, factories and manufactories grew at an alarming rate from the late eighteenth century. By the mid nineteenth century the manufacture of every conceivable item that could be made of brass , from tacks to bedsteads and gas fittings.
The skills within the brass trade cannot be understated. Casting needed the application of both manual dexterity and scientific knowledge. The rising demand for church furniture and artefacts in the 19th century, as well as the revival of metal art and crafts, tried the skills of the workers. Braziers wrought intricate patterns on many of the goods they produced, but, by the nineteenth century, their work had been taken over by machine stamping. The flexibility of Birmingham’s workers was renowned.
William Tonks founded one such firm in 1789. They won gold medals at the 1851 and 1862 Exhibitions in London and in 1855 at Paris. The larger factory in Moseley Street, Birmingham was opened in the early 1860s and most items now found will date from after this time, such as the example we have found. Their 1890 catalogue contained an array of builders hardware and designed interior pieces. The network of canals around Birmingham was well established by this time making the transportation of raw materials both quicker and cheaper.
Another Birmingham maker Townshend Art Metal Company, was an establish brass and copper foundry in the 1890s . They specialised in art metalware such as holloware and tableware for up market retailers and restaurants . This candlestick example has a fabulous ornate design to the base and stem.
Although Birmingham cannot claim credit for the introduction of brass manufacture to this country, within a few years of its appearance in the town Birmingham was responsible for a high proportion of the manufacture of pieces in brass. We think that decorative brass pieces made in Birmingham in the 19th century are really over looked. If you have a piece with a makers mark do take a look at www. oldcopper.org. It is a great reference site for research.