Learn about metals and brassware, and the history of it, with our ValueMyStuff valuations and appraisals experts. Find out how it has developed over the years.
When people think of metal antiques, silver usually comes to mind, however, there is a wealth of other metallic materials that have been used in the production of domestic wares and art. Copper, brass bronze, chrome, iron, tin and pewter to name a few offer a myriad of uses and forms due to their spectrum of properties from pewter tavern tankards to elegant Art Deco sculpture.
During the 19th century, the demand for small-scale decorative sculptures exploded. Bronzes provided the possibility of including in the European home an element of the great bronze statues which adorned the major European cities and they flourished well into the 20th century. Where the Arts & Crafts movement had not taken interest in decorative sculpture, from the 1890s Art Nouveau took advantage of the naturalistic qualities of bronze, and the medium really took off during the 1920s and ‘30s along with ivory under the Art Deco style.
Art Deco bronzes continued the trend set by Art Nouveau in focussing on the female figure as the object of sculpture, by this time incorporating modern Jazz Age dress and style as well as the nude figure. To a greater extent than Art Nouveau, Art Deco sculptors also experimented gilding, silvering and chryselephantine as well as bases of iconic Deco striated marble and black slate.
Antique Domestic Metalwork
At the other end of the spectrum, metals like copper, brass, iron and pewter have been used in Europe for utilitarian objects for hundreds of years. While this has made them very prolific materials in the past, it has also meant that older damaged or unfashionable pieces have steadily been melted down or recycled into new pieces, making items of medieval metalwork now rather rare. Once considered scrap, pieces from the 17th century or earlier such as brass candlesticks are now highly desirable and decorative, particularly in a period setting.
The British metalworking industry centred around Bristol and later Birmingham took off in the 18th century, aided by an influx of skilled migrants fleeing conflict in mainland Europe. The traditional European centres of production in northern Germany and the Low Countries continued to produce but became more specialised in items like tobacco boxes. The 19th century saw the onset of factory production; items like pewter tankards were mass produced for pubs and inns as small braziers and founders were replaced by factories.
20th Century Metalwork
At the turn of the 20th century, both the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau traditions were producing stylised domestic wares such as jugs, caddies, trays, bowls and other practical items. It was, however, the Art Deco movement that modernised the use of these metals by incorporating them into the new items and appliances of the interwar years. Particularly in the US, streamlined design brought copper, aluminium, chrome and other metals to electrical appliances such as alarm clocks as well as more traditional features of the 20th century home like light fittings and as embellishments to furniture. The Bauhaus movement, now iconic of the period, is a great example of how Deco revived and reinterpreted base metals for every day, functional items.