James Dixon & Sons
Date Made/Found: 1879-1883
, founded 1806
Dr Christopher Dresser
, 1834 - 1904
Material and Medium: EPNS
Dimensions: Overall: 140 x 130 x 105mm (5 1/2 x 5 1/8 x 4 1/8in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 1975.405
This EPNS toast rack is illustrated in a catalogue dating to around 1880. Its pattern number was 66 and it retailed at 18s. It was also available in silver at an increased cost. The other EPNS toast racks range in price from 11s to 29s.
Christopher Dresser sold 37 different designs to James Dixon & Sons from 1879-1883. They included small, portable and functional items such as tea sets, toast racks, cruet sets, salts and claret jugs. Dresser's designs were most often made in EPNS, but were also available in silver upon request. Dresser's designs appear to have been produced up to the early 1890s.
Dresser's designs appear in a number of Dixon's catalogues of goods from around this time. Interestingly, these appear anonymously on pages with other objects and are not identified as being by Christopher Dresser. At least in terms of the range of toast racks available to customers, the Dresser designs were priced comparably to the others. These factors suggest that a named designer was not seen as an important marketing tool by the firm. However, the actual objects produced from Dresser's designs were usually marked with his signature. This differentiates his work from that of Dixon's in house designers, whose work was very rarely credited to an individual.
A costings book from the company archive lists the cost and processes involved in the production of this toast rack. It is described as "7 Bar Toast Rack - Dr Dresser [gap] Oblong Bottomed - sharp corners made of round wire. 7 wire framed with Bar down the centre".
In comparison to many of Dresser's designs for Dixon's, this toast rack was fairly simple and cheap to make. It required 8oz of metal wire, costing 1s and 6d worth of solder join the different wire sections together. It cost 2s 6d to make each individual wire section, including the seven distinctive triangular pieces used to hold the toast. The cost of assembling the separate pieces together to form the toast rack was just 9d (called "dressing"). The assembled object was electroplated at a cost of 2s. The final process was burnishing the toast rack to a high shine. This was carried out by "Mrs Elliot" and cost 6d.
The total cost of materials and labour was 7s 8d. Given that the design retailed at 18s, the firm made a tidy profit of over 10s for each toast rack they sold.
Throughout much of their history, Dixon's success appears to have been founded in the enduring popularity of very traditional tableware designs. The objects Dixon's produced from Dresser's designs are in stark contrast to their staple products. The inclusion of Dresser's design represent a move by Dixon's to appeal to a fashion conscious market.
From an early stage in the history of the firm, James Dixon & Sons aimed to maximise their consumer market by offering a vast range of goods in a number of different materials. This enabled them to appeal to customers on moderate incomes, as well as a wealthier clientele.
Dresser's designs for Dixon's were probably aimed at middle class customers with an appreciation of contemporary trends in design. The designs produced by Dixon's were typical examples of Dresser's geometric style, which was heavily influenced by Japanese and Middle Eastern art and design. Although cutting edge in terms of their style, Dresser's designs for Dixon's were also affordable and highly functional. This combination made them incredibly popular with consumers.
Dresser discussed the importance of economy in design (particularly when using expensive materials such as silver or silver plate) in an 1873 publication entitled 'Principles of Victorian Decorative Design':
"Modes of economising material, when we are forming vessels of costly substances, are of the utmost importance, and should be carefully thought out. If the designer forms works which are expensive, he places them beyond the reach of those who might otherwise enjoy them".