Joseph Rodgers & Sons
Date Made/Found: late 1800s
, founded 1724
Material and Medium: leather, paper
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2004.1274
This type of business record is known as a day book. These documents are incredibly useful, as they give an indication of the range of products being produced, the different materials that were used in their making and the original cost of particular objects. This day book was probably used by the Sheffield firm Joseph Rodgers & Sons in the late 1800s. Although it does not state this directly in the ledger, there are a number of blade illustrations that include depictions of Joseph Rogers & Sons' marks and trade name.
On the front of the binding are the words 'OLD TABLE KNIFE DESCRIPTION BOOK'. From the day book entries, it is clear that the firm was manufacturing a vast range of different knives and utilising a broad spectrum of materials. Inside the book are descriptions of over 2700 different patterns of knives and handles. Costs are also often given for matching forks. Sketches are occasionally used to illustrate some of the more obscure or ornate patterns.
The materials being used for handles included expensive imported materials, for example ebony, "Fine Ivory", "East India Ivory" and mother of pearl. More affordable materials used for hafting cutlery included stag, "White bone", "Cocoa Heart" (a type of wood imported from North America) and "Self-tip" (the ends of stag (antler) or horn).
The range of materials and processes used by the firm for manufacturing knives and flatware indicates that they probably had a wide market appeal. By making a substantial range of patterns and using a variety of materials, some expensive and some more affordable, they could appeal to a broad range of customers.
A steel table knife and fork with cheap white bone scales secured with three brass pins are listed in the day book (pattern number 1517). The costs listed for making these objects are 1s 10d for the steel blade, 1s 1d for the matching fork, 11d for the scales and 1s 6d for the labour used to haft the knife and fork. Including an additional, unspecified overhead of 2d (perhaps the cost of the brass pins), the total cost of manufacturing the knife and fork is just 5s 6d.
A pair of "Fish Carvers" (pattern number 1814) is also listed in the day book. In direct contrast to the bone handled knife and fork, the carvers use expensive materials and have ornate decorative features. This difference is reflected clearly in the cost of manufacturing the carvers.
The carvers are made from silver and the knife has a "Wrights Pattern Blade" that is saw pierced and chased. The handles are also decorated with chasing. This is a highly skilled technique similar to engraving, in which a craftsman uses small chisel-like tools and a hammer to indent decorative patterns into the surface of the silver. The use of saw piercing and chasing would add considerably to the cost of the carvers. A note in the day book states that the labour cost of piercing the carvers was 2s 6d for each utensil. The costs for the carvers are £1 10s 6d for the pierced blade, £1 1s for the pierced fork, 3s for the chasing, 15s 3d for the handles, 3d for the hafting and 1s to burnish the finished carvers to a high shine. The total cost of manufacturing the carvers is £3 11s.
There are many different types of knife and other objects listed in the day book. As we might expect, many of these are knives and forks for the table, for eating dessert and for trades such as butchery. However, there are also a considerable number of more unusual types of object listed. These reflect the fashion in the 1800s for acquiring eating and serving utensils designed for use with particular types of food. Included in the day book are a gooseberry pruner, game carvers, cheese knives, cake carvers, a putty knife and a cheese scoop. We would expect a large firm like Joseph Rodgers & Sons to be capable of producing this considerable range of goods. It might very well be beyond the capabilities of a smaller company.
This object forms part of the Bill Brown Collection. Supported by The Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of Sheffield Galleries & Museums Trust.Display Location: