The Storr story: how Paul Storr designed and orchestrated the production of silverware

For 45 years in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the silversmith made exuberant work

by Vanessa Brett  |  12 December 2016
This silver candelabrum was part of the exuberantly designed dinner service made for Henrique Teixeira de Sampaio, conde da Póvoa (1774-1833), one of the earliest commissions for Storr & Mortimer (1822-23). Courtesy of Koopman Rare Art, London/Photo Karen Bengal
This silver candelabrum was part of the exuberantly designed dinner service made for Henrique Teixeira de Sampaio, conde da Póvoa (1774-1833), one of the earliest commissions for Storr & Mortimer (1822-23). Courtesy of Koopman Rare Art, London/Photo Karen Bengal
Art in Industry: the Silver of Paul Storr is the third in a trio of catalogues by Christopher Hartop, published in conjunction with selling exhibitions at the London dealer Koopman Rare Art. The earlier two are The Classical Ideal: English Silver 1760-1840 and Royal Goldsmiths: The Art of Rundell & Bridge 1797-1843. These lavishly illustrated books cover an important period for British silver. Hartop discusses objects, relates facts and gossip about makers, designers and patrons, and explores workshop practices, in an easily readable style.

Storr (1770-1844) is one of a handful of silversmiths whose names may be known to non-specialists. The first person to publish a life of Storr was Norman Penzer in 1954; his subtitle describing Storr as the “last of the goldsmiths” was eagerly taken up by the antiques trade but omitted from reprints of this undeniably ground-breaking work. Penzer’s phrase was misleading, and over the past 50 years other scholars (Charles Oman, Shirley Bury and John Culme) have sought to clarify Storr’s role as a silversmith. Building on their research, Hartop has put his own stamp on this publication through his vast hands-on experience of silver and silver collections.

Storr first registered a maker’s mark in 1792, but the height of his career was his partnership with the retailer Rundell, Bridge & Rundell between 1807 and 1819. The period of this association forms the central chapter of the book, balanced by Storr’s early years and his later (less harmonious) partnership with John Mortimer; the ratio of pages given to these distinct periods in Storr’s life is  24:46:34. Further chapters deal with “the legacy”, taking the story of Storr’s firm through to his successor Hunt & Roskell, and “collecting Storr”—presumably to energise collectors today.

During the course of his career, Storr entered into several other partnerships and working associations, sometimes concurrently: with the silversmith Andrew Fogelberg in the 1790s, Peter Bogaerts (a carver and gilder), Richard Nash (who had a flatting business). Hartop suggests that in the 1790s Storr may have imported finished items or component parts from France and speculates that Storr’s decision to leave Rundell’s may have been a case of poaching by other retailers, including Garrard’s, to whom he supplied plate and casting patterns during the 1820s. Storr’s associations over a career lasting 45 years resulted in work bearing his mark entering the strongrooms of nearly every royal and aristocratic household, of naval and military heroes, and of aesthetes such as William Beckford. 

Who or what was the driving force behind the huge investment in plate and jewellery at this time? Was it the retailers, the patrons or the political events that made them rich? It was not Storr, whose laudable achievement was to understand the cost and timing of commissions and to see off the production line a range of domestic and display plates of infinite variety and consistently high quality. This hotbed of activity was a team effort on an industrial scale: his workshops had a design studio, and some of the best modellers, die sinkers, chasers, gilders and polishers of the time. The whole process required a combination of physical strength, technical skill, artistry, machinery and merchandising—hence the title of the book: Art in Industry.

The author’s suggestion that the era of the luxury retailer began with Rundell’s during the Napoleonic wars is odd. Toyshops had sold luxury goods from at least the early 18th century, and indeed Philip Rundell’s predecessor at 32 Ludgate Hill was a toyman. Rundell’s business (as jewellers, dealers in diamonds and antiquarian plate, retailers of gold boxes, “toys” and so much more), and the influence of the partners’ families and financial dealings on the whole operation, remains one of the great unwritten stories in the field of decorative arts. It was not Hartop’s brief for this book. His subject is a man who supplied stock to most of the high-end shops in London, objects that are extraordinary evidence of the wealth and success of his generation.  

Vanessa Brett is the author of Bertrand’s Toyshop in Bath: Luxury Retailing 1685-1765 (2014). She is a co-curator of the Silver: Light and Shade exhibition (until 22 January 2017) at the Holburne Museum, Bath, which includes major works by Paul Storr and Rundell’s

Art in Industry: the Silver of Paul Storr
Christopher Hartop 
John Adamson, 168pp, £45, $75 (hb)

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