Date Made/Found: 1900-1930
, British, 1863 - 1944
Material and Medium: EPNS
Dimensions: Overall: 55 x 45 x 225mm (2 3/16 x 1 3/4 x 8 7/8in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2007.754
This object is an asparagus server. It is made from once piece of EPNS that has been bent to create a pair of tongs. This gives the server a natural spring action. The ends (blades) of the server are wide, very flat and are the perfect shape for lifting spears of asparagus.
A 1905 catalogue of the firm Atkin Brothers of Sheffield illustrates several of these objects made in Sterling silver. Two main types were available; tong-shaped varieties with a natural spring action and others with blades operated manually using a lever. The cheapest was a tong-style server with simply pierced blades and no decoration, costing 58 shillings (equivalent to £2.90 today). The most expensive was a manual server with engraved blade and a "thick ivory handle" at 80 shillings (equivalent to £4 today).
The server would be used at the dinner table to lift spears of asparagus from a serving plate to a dinner plate. Small versions, called asparagus eaters, were available for eating individual spears.
This object was almost certainly made by George Ellis, who worked as an independent silversmith in Sheffield. George Ellis first appears in the Sheffield trade directory in 1895. His first business premises were in Court 2, 16 John Street, near London Road. This address was occupied by a number of craftsmen at the time including a "scissors smith" named Charles Reynolds, a file forger named William Addy, a silver plater named Joseph Turner and William Stones, a silversmith.
By 1900, George Ellis had moved to 100a Charles Street. He is described in the Sheffield trade directory as a "maker of fish eaters, carvers, desserts, jams, butters, spoons &c. to the trade". Records at Sheffield Assay Office indicate that Ellis registered his first mark, 'GE', in May 1912. At this time George, Louisa and their daughter Winifred Grace were living at 199 Chippinghouse Road, just off Abbeydale Road.
In 1932, George Ellis' business became a limited liability company and was renamed George Ellis (Silversmiths) Limited, based at 107-109 Arundel Street. A trade directory of 1934 describes George Ellis as the Managing Director of the business. George Ellis died in 1942, at the age of 73. Little is known about the fortunes of the company after this time. It continued to trade on Arundel Street, but is not listed in the trade directories after 1971.
The premises of George Ellis (Silversmiths) Limited can be seen on Arundel Street today. The original signage is still present on the building.
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'. Duncan Edwards examined the asparagus server for us to determine how it was made. Duncan is a self employed smith, cutler and lecturer at Freeman College.
Hidden History: how was it made?
The tongs were first 'blanked' (the outline cut out) from a flat sheet of metal. They were then bowled at the centre point and folded to create the tong shape. The tongs have a limit pin so that they are not overstretched. One end of the pin is threaded and slotted through a piece of tube. A threaded washer secures the other end.
The blade that holds the asparagus has been saw pierced by hand and not stamped out. This is a highly skilled and time consuming process. Duncan noted that "the lines created by the saw blade moving through the metal are just visible to the naked eye and can be felt using the edge of your finger-nail". The servers have also been hand engraved with floral motifs.
The holes in the blades created by the saw piercing would also serve a practical purpose, as they would enable liquid to drain from the asparagus spears when lifted from a serving plate.
This object is part of the George Ellis Collection.