Joyce Rosemary Himsworth
, British, 1905 - 1989
Material and Medium: Sterling silver, gold, gilt, niello
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 1979.419
This elegant object is a cigarette box. It was made by Joyce Rosemary Himsworth (1905-1990), a designer silversmith from Sheffield. From an early age, she worked with her silversmith father, Joseph Beeston Himsworth, making small spoons and items of jewellery. She went on to study at Sheffield School of Art, focusing on jewellery manufacture and enamelling. Himsworth became a member of the Sheffield Art Crafts Guild and the Red Rose Guild. She also taught at art colleges in Rotherham and Chesterfield.
Himsworth and her father registered a joint mark at Sheffield Assay Office in 1925, which comprised both sets of their initials. However, just a year later, Joyce began to use this mark on work she produced as an independent designer silversmith, working mostly to commission in her own studio. In 1935 she registered the mark 'JRH' at the London and Sheffield Assay Offices. This cigarette box was assayed in London. After a highly successful career, Himsworth eventually retired in the 1960s.
Cigarette cases were an essential accessory for the fashionable woman during the 1920s and 1930s. Attitudes to smoking were very different to today. An advice manual written in 1913, 'Good Manners in a Nutshell', even recommends that guests are provided with cigarettes at dinner:
"May a hostess provide cigarettes, matches, and ashtrays for her guests at a formal dinner?
Certainly, this is more frequently done than not. They are placed on the left of each "place" or centred conveniently for the guest, and they are not removed during the meal".
During the 1930s, the silversmithing trade experienced a decline due to economic instability and shifting fashions. There was a great deal of competition for a relatively small number of commissions and many of Sheffield's independent silversmiths did not survive. By manufacturing small, affordable items and responding quickly to changes in contemporary design, Himsworth was able to survive this difficult period.
The cigarette box is decorated with an abstract image of a person smoking. This was achieved using a technique called niello and pieces of inlaid coloured gold. The box perfectly captures the modernist style adopted by Himsworth during the 1930s. Niello is a type of inlay used on metalwork, particularly on items made from silver or gold.
Many of Himsworth's designs were decorated using the niello technique, including another cigarette box and a child's cup currently on display in the Metalwork Gallery (Millennium Galleries). Himsworth used other traditional methods of decoration in her work, including mounted semi-precious stones. She was particularly renowned for producing enamel work of an incredibly high quality using several different techniques.
Revealing the object's Hidden History…
As part of the DCF funded Living Metal project, we invited a number of silversmiths to view items from the collection in order to reveal their 'hidden histories'. Sue Lowday examined the cigarette case for us.
Hidden History: how was it made?
The box has sloped edges with soldered sections at each end.
Inlaid niello is very poisonous to make, involving sulphur, lead, bismuth, copper and silver melted into large beads. This is then ground down into grains like enamel and melted into areas carved out using an engraving tool. It can also be inlaid into recesses made by hammer marks, acid etching, etc.
It looks like the large sections of metal inlay were cut out and soldered into place. They could be 18ct yellow gold and 9ct rose gold. Small strips were cut out and soldered into place.
"Fire stain" is still visible on the top of the case (it has an appearance similar to tarnish). This is the bane of producing a high polished silver item. It is caused by copper, which is added to silver to give hardness, rising to the surface of the metal from repeated annealing (heating). It can be avoided by either polishing it out, heating the item repeatedly once it is polished and finished to cause it to fire stain all over, or silver plate it to disguise the marking.
Sue suggested that the fire stain on the cigarette case might not have been polished out because the silver was getting too thin.
Hidden History: Sue Lowday's thoughts on the cigarette case…
"I like the design, it feels very Art Deco. I also like the way she is exploring the materials, mixing niello, silver and the gold in two colours".
Where else has the object been exhibited?
This cigarette box can be seen at the Millennium Galleries. The object was also included in the following past exhibitions:
'Joyce R. Himsworth Sheffield Silversmith', Sheffield City Museum 8th July-3rd September 1978, Cat. No. 23, Illustration E.
'Modern Silver', Goldsmith's Company (London), 1938, Cat. No. 22.