The Pearson Silver Collection comes to London

An exhibition of highlights from The Pearson Silver Collection go on view in London for the first time this autumn. The world renowned collection devoted to post-War and contemporary British silver design will be at Sworders’ London gallery in Cecil Court, Covent Garden from October 4-15 (including Saturday the 9th).

Comprising more than 900 pieces by nearly 300 silversmiths, The Pearson Collection is the largest of its kind in private hands, and tells the story of the development of silver design from 1945 to the present day. It includes pieces such as Graham Stewart’s bee honeypot, James Dougall’s balloons, a skyscraper clock by Gerald Benney and Malcolm Appleby’s Allusion Box.

The collection’s founder and curator, John Andrew, describes himself as a one-man mission to bring Britain’s contemporary silversmithing to a wider audience.

“It may be our best-kept secret – that in Britain smiths create silver objects at the highest level with exceptional craftsmanship and with an extraordinary standard of design” said John.

From the medieval period through to rococo and neoclassicism, the history of silver production in England is a long and rich one – its hallmarking system is the oldest form of consumer protection. However, a new generation of designers came to prominence in the post-War era to effectively reinvent the output of silver in response to changing markets. These men and women made a profound and lasting impact on the direction of modern silver and ushered in an unexpected ‘golden age’ for British silver.

Many collectors still ignore this recent work, but with a growing market and new admirers, the best work from the 1960s and 1970s is becoming more popular as indeed is the work of contemporary makers.

Background on John Andrew and The Pearson Silver Collection

‘It all started with an Irish halfcrown in the late 1950s.’ John mused when asked how the Collection started. His father had been passed the coin in his change. When John – aged seven – saw it he thought it was beautiful and asked if he could have it. From that moment he became an avid coin collector. In his teens he was mentored in matters numismatics by a local businessman who had a superb coin collection. He also collected silver objects which interested John. In the 1960s, like many schoolboys at the time, he had a Saturday job. As his aspirations exceeded his earnings and knowing his parents would consider any further extramural earnings would affect his studies, he decided that he would become a freelance journalist writing on coins. ‘If I sat writing or leafing through books my parents would just think I was being studious.’, he commented. He started with a column on coins at his local newspaper and later a coin magazine. He bought his first piece of silver in 1971 just before going to university and sold his coin collection. He combined a career in banking with writing – the coin columns were now syndicated to five countries over four continents. In the early 1980s he interviewed Stuart Devlin who had designed the 1966 Australia’s decimal coinage. Stuart was also a silversmith and for the first time John saw modern British silver. It was in 1984, while viewing a silver auction in London in search of Georgian snuffboxes, that John first encountered the exceptional workmanship of a hand-raised goblet by Stuart Devlin (1931- 2018) on the secondary market. It became his first purchase, quickly followed by other works by Devlin and his contemporary Gerald Benney (1930-2008). Expect to see pieces by both of these giants of the mid to late 20th century including Benney’s extraordinary 47cm high, near 7-kilo enamel and silver-gilt clock in the form of a skyscraper. Aged 40, John had what he describes as his ‘Road to Damascus’ experience. Committed to a new collecting direction, at 50 he decided to sell all his other collections, including Fabergé from Imperial Russia , to finance the acquisition of silver pieces by post World War II and 21st century UK makers.

With little interest in this area and only a few available catalogues and the odd book on the subject, he contacted silversmiths directly to learn more. His book Designer British Silver published in 2015 immediately become the standard reference work on the subject and has done much to shed light on a raft of talented makers whose surnames don’t yet resonate beyond the cognoscenti.

John continues to add to the collection both at auction, across all post-1945 periods, and through direct purchase from contemporary silversmiths who he also commissions.

He has befriended many of the artists and designers whose work he collects and, through the collection’s sister organisation, The Pearson Silver Foundation, has sought to encourage and promote talented young silversmiths.

A recent commission, The Meadow Centrepiece by Theresa Nguyen will be on view in London. John has known her since 2007 when she was at Bishopsland, the post graduate residential centre for newly established silversmiths and jewellers.