Joyce Rosemary Himsworth
, British, 1905 - 1989
Material and Medium: silver, niello, wood
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 1990.1038
This elegant object is a cigarette box. It was made by Joyce Rosemary Himsworth (1905-1990), a designer silversmith from Sheffield. It is made from silver and lined with cedar wood. It would have been used on a table or desk as a container to hold cigarettes.
From an early age, Joyce 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 Artcrafts 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. After a highly successful career, Himsworth eventually retired in the 1960s.
Cigarette cases and other smoking accessories were essential for fashionable women during the 1920s and 1930s. Attitudes to smoking were very different from 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".
What do we know about studio silversmiths at the time this object was made?
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 a stylised image of a woman smoking. A finger can be slid under the slightly overhanging hand of the figure to lift open the lid. The box perfectly captures the modernist style adopted by Himsworth during the 1930s.
The decoration was achieved using a technique called niello. This is a type of inlay used on metalwork, particularly on items made from silver or gold. In this process the design is firstly engraved onto the object. The decorated area is then coated with a black powdered alloy of sulphur, copper, silver and lead. The piece is then heated until the alloy melts and becomes fused into the engraved design. When it is sufficiently cooled, the surface of the object is scraped and polished to remove the excess niello, leaving behind a striking black inlay in the engraved lines of the design.
Many of Himsworth's designs were decorated using the niello technique. This includes 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.