Joseph Sankey & Sons Ltd.

Art Metalware

The information on this page has been assembled by Frank Sharman.  Some of the material has been gleaned from , the art metalware web site.  We are grateful to Gregory J. Kolojeski for permission to use this material.  Readers of this page should visit that site.  Except where otherwise acknowledged all photos on this page are from a private collection in Wolverhampton.

When Sankeys started to produce art metalware is not known but it seems possible that they did so about 1890 when, according to the 19th century Bilston historian, Lawley,  "the firm patented a new process for the decoration of tin plates, and during the last two years an entirely new branch has been added in the manufacture by this process of their patent "Neptune Art Ware," comprising trays, waiters, candlesticks, bread baskets, &c., in various shapes and of different designs."  The art nouveau styles found on many pieces tends to confirm this as a likely date. Gregory Kolojeski has noted Sankey's registered designs from 1896 through to 1914. 

In July 1932 Sankeys sent out this letter with a catalogue.  The letter says "We have decided to liquidate our present stocks of all lines of Art Metalware" and it says the prices "have been reduced very considerably".  A sticker attached to the catalogue gives the discount as 50%.  The letter also says "We shall be unable to repeat the present prices when the stocks are cleared".

Whilst this leaves open the possibility that production of art metalwares was to continue, this is far less likely than this being the last fling.

The catalogue which this letter accompanied is shown right.  It is dates May 1932 and contains 26 copiously illustrated pages.  Whilst not every one of their known art metalware products is listed, a very large number of them is and from all categories.  This confirms the statement that they were liquidating all stocks and that 1932 is the best date for the end of production of these goods.

Catalogue and letter from a private collection.

Sankeys used three trade marks: the Sphinx, the figure of Neptune and the letter S in a diamond pattern.   The Sphinx and Neptune have both been found on art metalware but the commonest form of marking seems to have been variations of the letters JS&S or JS&SB.  It is possible that the "B" stands for Bilston. 

The two marks, top left, appear on ewers (in a private collection in Wolverhampton). The other two marks are from the Artmetalware web site.

Note that another Wolverhampton company, John Shaw and Sons, also sometimes put the letters J S & S on their products.  But these were a different class of product and, so far as is known, Shaws never made art metalware.  The letters JS&S have been noted on, for example, a brass blow lamp.

Sankeys produced a wide range of art metalware items and the full extent of their production is not yet known.  However a catalogue produced by the company in 1910 probably covers most of the items produced.  (Wolverhampton City Archives, call number DX302).  The catalogue is titled "Stamped and Pressed Holloware. Art Metal Work. Embossed and Engraved Sheets".  

It starts with a wide selection of practical, utilitarian domestic wares.  It then comes to what might be termed art metalware.  It is not clear as to what items are produced in what combinations of materials, finishes and designs.  However those mentioned are copper, brass, caspian silver, electro-plate, nickel-plate and oxidised silver.  

There is a separate section headed "Neptune Art Ware" and this must be the patented process referred to by Lawley.  Nearly all of the items in this section are waiters but there are also fruit dishes and, surprisingly, dust pans.  It appears that this ware consists of metal sheet embossed all over with elaborate patterns.  Amongst the items are round and oval waiters which are offered in a silver finish or "coloured and silver" or "coloured and gold" and some are "coloured in relief".  There is no mention of what colours are available.  But the entries suggest that this Neptune process could include some sort of finish in colours but, whether the colour is enamel or what, there is no way of telling.

Neptune art ware is also available as embossed sheets.  This suggests that Sankeys were selling the processed sheets to anyone who wanted to have a go at producing art metalware themselves.

To give a list of what the catalogue offers in copper, brass and other metals and finishes would be very boring.  So here goes.

cake baskets, breakfast trays, afternoon tea trays, crumb sets, scoops and brushes, bread trays, bread boards, tea pot stands, finger bowls, cheese butter and biscuit dishes, hot water jugs (mostly with or without lids), hot water cans, match holders, ash trays, fern pots, panels and finger plates, photograph frames, string boxes, desk pads, fire guards, umbrella stands, waste paper baskets, toilet trays, brushes, mantle strips, tea caddies, candle sticks, coal boxes and scuttles.

The following illustrations show at least something of the range.

A tray in copper.  These large and weighty trays, especially those with some sort of art nouveau or arts and crafts attributes, are much beloved by antique dealers, who charge fancy prices for them.

To judge by the numbers still around, these jugs or ewers were a popular line.  The catalogue refers to them simply as "hot water jugs".  They came in at least three finishes, shown here, from left to right: hammered, art nouveau and lizard skin.

Photo courtesy the English metalware website.

This lizard skin hot water jug, size 3, has the Neptune trade mark on its base.

To modern tastes these plain versions may look more elegant than the patterned ones.

Above are two copper jugs, one size 4, the other size 3.

A copper jug, size 3.

Presumably all designs were available in both metals. Here are size 4 lizard skin hot water jugs in copper and brass.

These hot water jugs came in at least five sizes.  The size number usually seems to be stamped on the base.  There were also two handle designs, shown here on brass art nouveau jugs.

Photo courtesy the English metalware website.

A further variation was provided by a flip top lid, available, according to the catalogue, on nearly all sizes and styles of the hot water jugs.

Photo courtesy the English metalware website.

These look like tankards but are called hot water jugs in the catalogue.  They came in both metals, at least two handle and thumb catch styles, and at least two decorative patterns.

These tea caddies show both metals, two patterns and two sizes.  There may have been more variations.

Courtesy of the English metalware website.

A chamber candlestick. At the time it was produced, such a piece was for practical use in lighting your way to bed.

Courtesy of the English metalware website.

This copper hot water can is plain but is also known in a honeysuckle design.

Courtesy of the English metalware website.

A fine copper kettle.

Courtesy of Keith Vagg.

A large crumb tray in brass.

From Frank Sharman's collection. 

Crumb trays could usually be bought with or without a matching brush.  The most usual practice was to use a crumb tray with a folded napkin, not a brush. The catalogue shows brushes with all crumb trays but there are fewer designs of brush than there are of crumb trays - it seems that the nearest match was used to make up a set.

A plain crumb scoop in brass. This very plain style does not appear in the catalogue but it is marked JS&S.

From Frank Sharman's collection.

This crumb tray may be in the original Neptune art metal.  It is embossed with an overall pattern. 

It also has to be said that the finish is unnaturally bright and very red.

Two cache pots, each about 4" high.

Left: on three bun feet and with lily of the valley frieze.

Right: pierced frieze and with oak leaf and acorn frieze.

It is difficult to say where art metalware ends and an attractive design of a utilitarian piece begins. 

This is said to be a pub tray.  Stamped into it is a line drawing of two men in roughly 18th century clothes, seated on a chair and a settle.

It was found in Australia.  It may have got their with an immigrant's effects; or Sankeys may have exported it.

A Sankey's jug in the same design as the copper and brass versions but in bright chrome.

Clearly of a much later date and showing the Sphinx trade mark on its base.

This is the trade mark on the base of the chrome ewer.  It is just as faint in the original, being only very lightly impressed. 

At some point Sankeys also started to produce stainless steel utensils of a plain but attractive design:

Stainless steel frying pan, bowl and tankard.

From Kath Kiely's kitchen.

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