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The Entrepreneurial Sankey Family

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

At Retrovation we love to buy pieces that are beautifully made and can be used in a modern interior. One maker that we think is a little overlooked is Joseph Sankey. Other copper makers such as the Newlyn school are reaching incredible values, whilst Sankey copper is often left on the shelf. The purists may say that these pieces were only hand finished and were starting to use mass production techniques. We still love the warm copper hues and the hand beaten look of their pieces. The iconic reptile design is a favourite of ours and we love the patina and tones of old antique copper.

Joseph Sankey was born in Bilston in 1827. After his father death in 1836, Joseph became a pupil at the Royal Orphanage School in Wolverhampton. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to John Duncalfe, a tray blank maker of Hall Street, Bilston, where he was taught design and mechanical drawing. After his apprenticeship he was employed by the Birch brothers, who made tinplate trays that were sold to Japanners for finishing.

In 1861, Joseph Sankey took over the business on his own. In the early 1860s, Joseph went into partnership with Richard Chambers and John Page in order to acquire a rolling mill and ironworks at Stonefield, as a way of gaining control over the firm’s supplies of tinplate and sheet iron. The business became the Bilston Iron Company.

The firm began to concentrate on the manufacture of a wide range of hollowware including chocolate moulds, dish covers, lamps, lanterns, milk churns, tin boxes and stamped or pressed metal products such as bath tubs, fire shovels and metal life buoys. In 1874 the firm had 65 employees.

The company’s founder, Joseph Sankey, died in 1886. In July 1891, John William Sankey, went into partnership with his two younger brothers, Frederick Ernest Sankey and George Herbert Sankey, and the business became Joseph Sankey & Sons.

The Sankey brothers were an entrepreneurial family and looked to expand and look after their employees. Joseph Sankey family is well-remembered in Bilston. They were true entrepreneurs and grew their business to be one of the most successful manufacturers in the town.

At Retrovation we love finding their pieces, especially in brass and copper.

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