Sheffield is known throughout the world foremost for its association with steel and cutlery: in the 1800s primarily for its pioneer steelmakers and innovation, and more recently for processing and finishing. While Sheffield's worldwide renown as a producer may have been eclipsed during the 1900s, its metalwork trades continued and flourish. Museums Sheffield is custodian of a collection of finished metalwork, awarded Designated Status in 1999 in recognition of its outstanding national and historical significance.
The collection is made up of some 13,000 items including what is probably the most extensive grouping of Sheffield-made cutlery, flatware (forks and spoons) and holloware (eg bowls, teapots, containers) in existence. It represents the light metals trades of Sheffield's long manufacturing and craft history. Most importantly the collections reflect the stories of generations of families who worked in the city and whose labour and skill contributed to its enormous success.
The collection mostly comprises items for domestic use, such as cutlery and tableware. This includes table knives and flatware, and material for the export trade such as Bowie knives in common use during the expansion of the American west. The collection also includes domestic equipment such as razors and scissors as well as material related to the cutlery trades such as horn, pearl and ivory knife handles. In addition it contains comparative items drawn from the cultures of Europe, Africa and Asia and range from flint knives dating from 2500BC to high quality silverware and stainless steel made today.
The collection of holloware is an intrinsic part of the Designated Metalwork Collection. It includes small collections of silver and electroplate, but most importantly two significant collections of Britannia metal and Old Sheffield Plate. These two metals, developed in Sheffield from the mid 1700s, include items made for the home such as teapots, candlesticks, tankards and snuff boxes, manufactured by well known local firms.
You can search the collection online here, or visit the permanent exhibition at the Millennium Gallery - click here for details. Please note that whilst the permanent exhibition frequently rotates items from the Metalwork Collection, it is not possible to display all of the collection at any one time.