British bronze sculpture founders and plaster figure makers, 1800-1980 - E
An online resource, launched in 2011, selectively updated twice yearly. Last updated March 2021. Contributions are welcome, to Jacob Simon at [email protected]
The history of institutional plaster cast collections lies outside the scope of this online resource but for the collection of Edinburgh College of Art and its origins in the activities of the Trustees' Academy in the early 19th century, see Helen Smailes, ‘A History of the Statue Gallery at the Trustees' Academy in Edinburgh’, Journal of the History of Collections, vol.3, no.2, 1991, pp.125-43, and the website, Edinburgh Cast Collection. See also Matthew Mazzoni, William Pink and Pietro Sarti in this online resource, and Margaret Stewart, ‘Scenery and Scenes: the plaster cast collection and its architecture at Edinburgh College of Art’, forthcoming article.
G.R. Elkington by 1830-1839, G.R. Elkington & Co 1839-1843, Elkington, Mason & Co 1842-1861, Elkington & Co 1862-1886, Elkington & Co Ltd 1887-1963.At 43/44 St Paul’s Square, Birmingham by 1830-1839 or later, New Hall St, Birmingham from 1839, also other addresses. Initially gilt-toy manufacturer; from c.1840 electroplaters, gilders, manufacturers of silver, gilt and plated goods; c.1855-80 also bronze founders.
The electroplate manufacturer, George Richards Elkington (1801-65), was born in Birmingham in 1801, the son of James Elkington, gilt-toy and spectacle maker. Elkington’s life and the history of the Elkington business have been traced in detail elsewhere (see Sources below). He was apprenticed to his uncles, Josiah Richards and George Richards, and became a partner in their silversmithing and gilt-toy business. He inherited his father's manufactory at St Paul's Square in Birmingham in about 1824.
In 1835 Elkington was trading as a manufacturer of real and imitation pearl, black and gilt ornaments, glass toys, etc (Wrightson’s Directory of Birmingham, 1835). With others, he took out various gilding patents, 1836-9, but it was the electroplating process, patented in 1840, which transformed his activities and revolutionised the silver trade by providing a cheap substitute for solid silver. A factory was built at Newhall St in Birmingham, opening in 1838. In 1839 he was trading both as a gilt-toy manufacturer in St Paul’s Square and as G.R. Elkington & Co, gilders by patent process upon silver, copper, brass, steel etc in Newhall St (Robson’s Birmingham & Sheffield Directory, 1839). In 1839 he ended his partnership with Joseph Taylor, a gilt-toy maker in Birmingham, and in 1840 that with his uncle George Richards, as Richards & Elkington, toy manufacturers, in London (London Gazette 28 January 1840, 5 May 1840).
To exploit his patents, Elkington entered into partnership, apparently in 1837, trading as G.R. Elkington & Co, with John Hardman senr, John Hardman junr and Jeremiah Iliffe, of Hardman & Illiffe, and William Hammond Turner, James Turner and Henry Turner. This partnership was dissolved in 1843 (London Gazette 20 October 1843). A further partnership, with his cousin, Henry Elkington (1810-52), became the firm of Elkington & Co, and then Elkington, Mason & Co when Josiah Mason (1795-1881), a successful manufacturer of steel pen nibs, brought further capital into the business in 1842. The business extended to Birmingham, Liverpool, London and Dublin, as electroplaters, gilders, manufacturers of silver, gilt and plated goods, and bronzists, by the time of the partnership’s dissolution on 31 December 1861 (London Gazette 16 May 1862).
By the time of George Richards Elkington's death in 1865, the company employed nearly a thousand workers and was established as the leading electroplate company in the world. According to Robert Eadon Leader, the firm's historian, George Elkington's ‘industry and capacity for work must have been untiring. He had half a dozen irons in the fire, any one of which might have monopolised the watchfulness of an ordinary man’.
Following Elkington’s death in 1865, the business was continued by his sons, Frederick (1826-1905), James Balleny (1830-1907), Alfred John (1834-1910), Howard (1835-1898) and Hyla (1839-1901). In 1870, in the London trade directory, the business described itself as patentees of the electroplate, bronze founders and manufacturers of works of art in silver & other metals by appointment to HM The Queen, HRH The Prince of Wales and HM the King of the Belgians, adding an appointment to HM the Emperor of Austria by 1876. The partnership between the five brothers and also Herbert Frederick Elkington (1851-1924) was terminated on 31 December 1886 (London Gazette 7 June 1887), when the business was converted into a limited liability company. The subsequent history of the business is not traced here.
Electrotype sculpture: Elkington’s commercial success was due to the production of useful articles, such as plate and cutlery. They also made original decorative ware in various styles, as well as electrotype reproductions (numerous examples in the Victoria and Albert Museum, including of sculpture). Elkington’s, like Franchi & Son (qv), were authorised to sell electrotype reproductions of objects in the then South Kensington Museum on the open market, and an attractive trade catalogue featuring 43 objects made by Franchi’s and 33 by Elkington’s, illustrated with photographs, was produced in 1873 (Illustrated Catalogue of Electrotype Reproductions of Works of Art from Originals in the South Kensington Museum, HMSO, 1873). Elkington’s took over Franchi’s in 1874 and continued the business at 15 Myddleton Street until 1897 (Culme 1987 p.141).
What follows is an attempt to differentiate Elkington's electrocast productions from those produced by traditional bronze funding techniques (# indicates information kindly supplied by Duncan James). One of their earliest documented large-scale electrotype sculptures was John Evan Thomas's Death of Tewdric Mawr, King of Gwent, 1849, exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851.
For the Chamber of the new House of Lords, Elkington’s manufactured most of the 18 statues by various sculptors, c.1852-8. They were cast in zinc, coated with copper by the electro process and chemically tinted at a cost of £80 a statue, and then gilt by Frederick Draycott for £10 a statue (Walker 1988 pp.122-3). Draycott may be the framemaker of this name, see British picture framemakers on this website. Elkington's also produced William Theed’s bronze relief panels for the Prince's Chamber in the Palace of Westminster (Walker 1988 pp.129-31), 1854-8, which were to be cast, bronzed and chased in the very best style, leaving open the question as to whether they were electrocast or produced using traditional bronze casting techniques. The panel, The Escape of Mary Queen of Scots, is marked: Executed by Elkington, Mason & Co.
Electrocast works from the 1860s by Joseph Durham include his Prince Albert and the Four Quarters of the World, marked: ELECTRO CAST, for the Memorial to the Great Exhibition, 1863 (Kensington Gore, see The Builder, vol.21, 6 June 1863, p.407; Elisabeth Darby, in Sculpture Journal, vol.9, 2003, pp.72-89) and Prince Albert, 1863, standing (#Guernsey, see Illustrated London News, 17 October 1863, p.400, as electrocast).
From the 1860s, other electrocast works include William Theed's statue, Malcolm Canmore, 1861 (Royal Collection, see Sullivan 2005 p.132), his Wellington College Statues (statues and busts of Napoleonic War leaders), 1861 (#Crowthorne, Berkshire, see Art Journal, August 1861, p.254, as costing ‘little more than one-half of the cost’ of traditional casts) and his bust, Prince Albert, marked: W THEED S.C./ ELKINGTON & CO. FOUNDERS (Christie’s 8 November 2009 lot 154, see British Art Journal, vol.14, no.3, 2015, p.37, n.221), William Calder Marshall’s statue, Samuel Crompton, 1862 (Bolton, Nelson Square, see Art Journal, 1862, p.238; Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester, pp.209-10) and John Henry Foley’s statue, Oliver Goldsmith, 1861/2, inaugurated 1864, marked: ELECTRO. CAST. BY./ ELKINGTON. &. Co. (#Dublin, Trinity College, see Art Journal, 1 May 1861, p.159; repr. Paula Murphy, Nineteenth Century Irish Sculpture, 2010, p.41). #Reductions of the statue of Goldsmith, and also that of Edmund Burke, were made by Elkington's (see Illustrated London News, 15 August 1863, p.180); examples offered at auction, Goldsmith, dated 1861, marked: ELKINGTON & Co FOUNDERS and Burke, 1865, marked: ELKINGTON & CO/ FOUNDERS (Sotheby's 20 May 2015 lot 68).
From an article on the Crystal Palace, it would appear that many of Elkington’s reductions were made by the electrotype process (see Morning Chronicle 18 December 1854). However, the actual process used is often undocumented and so it is not possible to discriminate clearly in the following listing between the processes. For John Bell, the business produced reductions of his Dorothea, original 1839, and Eve, 1853 (Victoria and Albert Museum, see Bilbey 2002 p.196), a statuette, The Arch-fiend, 1866, and the great monument, The Crimea Memorial, 1859-61 (Waterloo Place, see The Builder, vol.18, 11 August 1860, p.513, see also Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster, vol.1, p.388). For Sir Joseph Edgar Boem, the statuettes, Queen Victoria at the Spinning-wheel, 1869, and The Duke of Wellington, 1885 or later (both Royal Collection) and statues, Elizabeth Duchess of Bedford, 1875, and Cupid and the Mermaid, 1891 (both Woburn Abbey). See also Richard Barnes, John Bell: The Sculptor's Life and Works, 1999, pp.34, 44, 49, 54, 70, pl.36, 60, and Marc Stocker, Royalist and Realist: The Life and Work of Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm, 1988, nos 68a, 154, 274, 316.
Other small-scale works produced by Elkington’s in the 1850s, for which there is a lack of evidence as to the production process, include Henry Hugh Armstead's relief, Death of Boadicea, 1850-1, for the Art Union (Avery & Marsh pp.332-3), Henry Weigall's bust, The Duke of Wellington, 1851, published 1852 by Elkington Mason & Co (Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, see Andrew Clay et al., British Sculpture in the Lady Lever Art Gallery, 1999, p.77; further example, Victoria and Albert Museum, see Bilbey 2002 p.427) and another relief for the Art Union, Robert Jefferson’s The Duke of Wellington entering Madrid, 1856, edition of 5 or more (Art Union of London 20th report, 1856, pp.7-8).
The National Portrait Gallery owns a large and well-documented collection of Elkington’s electrotypes, many from mediaeval funerary effigies, others from modern sculpture. Nearly all of them were produced between 1869 and 1881 (see National Portrait Gallery - Elkington & Co). The earliest is Henry Weekes’s bust, William Buckland, 1858, cast 1869 (National Portrait Gallery), where the correspondence shows both the sculptor and George Scharf, the Gallery’s secretary and future director, exploring the implications of the electrotype process. Elkington’s wrote to the Gallery concerning the bust in July 1868, setting out the differences between the processes, ‘In best quality of Cast Bronze & highest finish, the price would be £42 – and for one in pure copper by Electric deposition it would be £31.10.0 but in the latter case we should destroy the original work’ (National Portrait Gallery records, RP 255). See also Bronze sculpture founders: a short history on this website.
The next bust to be produced, from an original in Westminster Abbey, was Mary Queen of Scots, 1870, marked: D. Brucciani/ LONDON.// ELKINGTON. &. Co. FOUNDERS., which cost £30 as a ‘Deposited Copy in Copper & Bronzed Mary Queen of Scots from Plaster’. In November that year Scharf visited Elkington’s works at Birmingham; he was shown ‘the entire extent of their works for the electrotyping process as applicable to producing busts & sculptures’, and was conducted through every department (National Portrait Gallery Archive, Secretary’s Journal, 29 November 1870). In January 1877, Henry Rollason, manager of Elkingtons, and Sarti, successor to Franchi, called to say that they had ‘established a large electrotyping works in the city of London & could execute further commissions with greater facility’ (Secretary’s Journal, 3 January 1877). In 1924, Elkington’s made an electrotype of Sydney March’s bust, King Edward VII, 1901 (National Portrait Gallery).
In 1885, the South Kensington Museum purchased from Elkington’s three lion sculptures finished in silver at £100 each, produced as electrotypes from the originals of 1670 guarding the royal throne at Rosenborg Castle, Denmark. The South Kensington Museum commissioned many other pieces from Elkington's but few on this scale.
Elkington & Co Ltd’s catalogue, c.1911-19, as art metal workers, featured decorative and architectural metalwork, memorial tablets, as well as electrotypes of work by Frank Lynn-Jenkins including sculptural reliefs and his marble and bronze group, The Spirit of British Maritime Commerce, 1904 (for Lloyds’ Registry, London, repr. Elkington & Co Ltd, Art Metal Workers, 28pp, 1911 or later).
Bronze foundry sculpture: For some 25 years, from the mid-1850s to the late 1870s, Elkington’s produced numerous bronze statues and sculpture by traditional bronze casting founding methods, as well as making electrocasts and electrotypes. This aspect of their business warrants fuller investigation to obtain a clearer understanding of the two markets and of individual pieces. The eventual demise of their bronze founding was signalled by an announcement in 1875 that Cox & Sons at the Thames Ditton foundry (qv) had retained the services of Elkington’s foreman, J.J. Moore, ‘in taking up the work of heavy bronze-founding relinquished by Messrs. Elkington’ (Belfast News-letter 17 May 1875, from the Daily Telegraph). Elkington’s dropped the description, ‘bronze founder’, from their listing in London directories from 1884. Nevertheless, as late as the 1910s, Elkington’s were advertising that they undertook cast work as well as electrotypes, illustrating a work of 1904 (Elkington & Co Ltd, Art Metal Workers, trade catalogue, 28pp, 1911 or later).
The following are thought to have been cast in Elkington’s foundry using traditional casting techniques(# information kindly supplied by Duncan James). From the 1850s, Peter Hollins’s statue, Sir Robert Peel, 1855 (Birmingham, Police Training Centre, see Public Sculpture of Birmingham, p.103), John Thomas’s Queen Boadicea and her Daughters, 1855 (#Brecon, behind Brecknock Museum) and the anonymous General Freire, 1856, through James D. Young (#Chile, see Illustrated London News, 6 September 1856, p.250; information from Terry Cavanagh, June 2015).
Statues by John Henry Foley cast by Elkington's, 1857-68, in addition to the electrocast Goldsmith above, include the equestrian Lord Hardinge, 1857 (#for Calcutta, Tank Square, now Private coll., see Illustrated London News, 26 June 1858, p.623, and Benedict Read, Victorian Sculpture, 1982, pp.5-7), John Fielden, 1863 (Todmorden, Fielden Square, see Sullivan 2005 p.107), Edmund Burke, 1868 (#Dublin), Field Marshal Lord Clyde, 1868, marked: ELKINGTON & CO/ FOUNDERS (Glasgow, George Square, see Public Sculpture of Glasgow, p.136), and the statuette, Queen Victoria, 1866 (National Gallery of Ireland, see Sullivan 2005 p.107).
From the 1860s, William Bro’s Drinking Fountain with Figure of ‘Temperance’, 1861 (New Bridge St, see Public Sculpture of the City of London, p.283), Charles H. Driver’s Felix Slade Drinking Fountain, 1862 (Kennington Park, see Public Sculpture of South London, p.352), Robert Jackson’s Robert Burn Anderson Memorial, c.1863 (#Glasgow Cathedral, see Art Journal, August 1863, p.157), Joseph Durham's statue, Prince Albert, 1864, marked: Elkington. &. Co. Founders (Framlingham, Framlingham College, see Illustrated London News, 18 May 1867, p.489, and Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk, p.212), William Theed's bust, Prince Albert, 1864, marked: ELKINGTON. &. Co. FOUNDERS (Victoria and Albert Museum, see Bilbey 2002 p.414), Carlo Marochetti’s Prince Albert, c.1865, reduction of marble funerary effigy, marked: ELKINGTON & Co (Royal Collection; another Duke and Duchess of Kent sale, Christie’s 20 November 2009 lot 68), Thomas Woolner's bust, Captain Francis Fowke, 1866, marked: ELKINGTON. &. CO/ FOUNDERS (Victoria and Albert Museum, see Bilbey 2002 p.436), George Gammon Adams' Field-Marshal Lord Seaton, 1866 (Devonport, Devon, see Sullivan 2005, p.94), Thomas Thornycroft’s ‘gun metal’ equestrian statues, Prince Albert, 1866, and Queen Victoria, 1869 (Liverpool, Lime St, see Illustrated London News 15 May 1886, and Public Sculpture of Liverpool, pp.91-7) and Henry Bursill’s Agriculture and Commerce, and Farmer & Brindley’s Fine Art and Science, and Winged Lions, 1868-9, marked: ELKINGTON & Co./ FOUNDERS (Holborn Viaduct, see Public Sculpture of the City of London, pp.206-14). For these Holburn Viaduct sculptures, Elkington's offered estimates for producing the works in pure deposited copper at about £240 and in cast bronze at about £320; the latter technique was adopted (London Metropolitan Archives, COL/TSB/EG/009/006, estimates 11, 17 April 1868).
From the 1870s and subsequently, John Birnie Philip and Farmer & Brindley’s ‘Peace’ Drinking Fountain, 1871-3 (West Smithfield Gardens, see Public Sculpture of the City of London, p.436). Charles Samuel Kelsey & Co’s Temple Bar Memorial relief, Going to St Paul’s 1872, 1880, marked: ELKINGTON & CO/ FOUNDERS (Fleet St, see Public Sculpture of the City of London, p.115), Frederick Callcott’s statue, Lifeboat Memorial, 1899, marked: ELKINGTON & COY LT/ FOUNDERS (Margate, see Illustrated London News, 14 October 1899, p.544), Sidney March’s South African War Memorial, 1904 (Omagh, Drumragh Avenue, repr. Elkington & Co Ltd, Art Metal Workers, trade catalogue, 1911 or later, p.27) and E. Giuntini’s bronze soldier, Boer War Memorial, 1904, marked: ELKINGTON & CO. LTD FOUNDERS/LONDON. ENG. (Riverview Memorial Park, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, information from Harold E. Wright, November 2014).
Sources: Robert Eadon Leader, ‘History of Elkington & Co’, typescript, 1913 (example in British Library, 1881.a.48); Shirley Bury, Victorian Electroplate, 1971; Culme 1987 pp.140-2; W.J. Harrison, rev. Geoffrey Tweedale, ‘Elkington, George Richards’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004. Various of Elkington and Co’s records, 1829-c.1968, belong to the Victoria and Albert Museum (Archive of Art & Design, AAD/1979/3, AAD/1998/6; the following have been consulted in the course of preparing this entry, PL1, PL12 (vol.4 1852-69), PL22, PL25 and PL51 but these do not relate to sculpture production). Information on works marked # kindly supplied by Duncan James. For abbreviations, see Resources and bibliography.
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