Considered one of the foremost experts on 18th- and 19th-century European and American antiques and fine art, Bill Rau has worked in the family-owned gallery for over 30 years. Bill's extensive knowledge and reputation as a leader places him among the most respected antique experts and gallery owners today.
The contributions of women are one, if not the most, overlooked aspect in the history of silver craftsmanship. The natural elegance and refinement exhibited in the works created by the hand of female silversmiths set them apart from all others, and, in many cases, are considered the finest masterworks ever made.
It is imperative to remind ourselves that, until fairly recently, women had very little rights under the law in the industrialized world, and were at the mercy of the men in their lives in every respect, including profession (if one were even allowed a career). Most women who did acquire a business did so by inheriting them from their deceased husbands, acting as widows simply carrying on the family trade in which they had spent years working side by side with their husbands and were more than able to accept the responsibility. According to the records of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, there existed only sixty-three female silversmiths between the years of 1697 and the Victorian era. Many of them were willed the tools of the trade, as was the case with Hester Bateman. She not only carried on the legacy of the "House of Bateman" but also passed on her extensive knowledge to her children, who became famed silversmiths in their own right.
A few of these silversmith pioneers entered partnerships with men to whom there was no blood or marital connection. For a mere fourteen women, there is no record of having a male relative in the silversmith craft. This is the case with the partnership of Ann Craig and John Neville, creators of this exceptional George II epergne. It is considered so superior for its type, that it was once part of the legendary Al-Tajir Collection of gold and silver. This outstanding work exhibits pierced decoration executed with the highest level of precision, not to mention an overall design that ranks it as an absolutely spectacular work of silver.
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