From the late 18th century Europeans began to settle in the Indian colonies in greater numbers and thus necessitated the requirement for vessels to bedeck their tables and equip their persons with silverware. While certainly London firms supplied silver for sale in the growing centres of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, demand was such that colonial firms began the production of silver to satisfy the settlers. As with any confined area a specific style developed peculiar to these firms and the requirements of environment. The hot weather much at odds with that in England, that was still experiencing the centuries long Little Ice Ace, and presented an issue for the serving of butter, the presence of flies and the safe consumption of milk. These colonial wares enjoyed an approximately 100 years period of production between 1780-1880, concurrent with the British settlement of India. These wares were marked to mimic the London made items they were in competition with, bearing pseudo-hallmarks to comfort their customers that they were purchasing an equally as fine product.
In the early 20th century when silver studies had emerged, these marks had long become forgotten except for the most famous firm of them all Hamilton and Co, which still operated in Calcutta with a Royal warrant. By the late 20th century many of the marks that occurred on a range of holloware, and flatware were identified for the first time, or corrected from misattributions and thus a collecting area developed particular to these idiosyncratic wares from the early times of empire.
By far the most silver produced by colonial firms was in Calcutta, here successful enterprises were established, and many larger pieces produced. Tea wares, entrée dishes, ewers, and even tea urns were produced. As the foods consumed by the colonial settlers differed to what they had consumed in England we see the arrival of curry pans and rice bowls for these new foodstuffs. The East India Company and its subsequent forms as well as the infantries based in India saw many of these aspirational classes form gymkhanas, regattas, and other events to be commemorated by trophy cups. Helpfully many of these were engraved for the victors or benefactors and thus allow us an insight into the people who patronised these colonial firms.
Second to Calcutta was production in Madras, chiefly under the direction of one Scottish family of successive generations, the firm of Gordon. One distinct silverware form developed from Madras, a ring handled tureen upon a pedestal foot with lion mask junctions to the handles. Latterly in this area the firm of Peter Orr was established in 1848 and went on to become the leading retail concern in the city.
Outside of the two main centres a few firms operated in Bombay, one named Mathies and Barron, a partnership formed between Thomas Mathies (c.1802-1838) and James Barron (1806-1852) was formed on the 18th July 1828. In Berhampore a few pieces have been found bearing the mark of Patrick Moran, and from Aurangabad a few pieces have been noted stamped BODRAJ and for the city.
Hamilton and Co
One firm became the most famous of all in British India, and long outlived the others. Hamilton and Co were initially founded by Robert Hamilton (1772-1847) in 1808 firstly in Tank Square, Calcutta, then eventually at 8 Old Court House Street from 1823-1971. Established as ‘Hamilton and Co’ in 1811, Robert Hamilton’s interests in the company ceased in 1817, thence having very many partners throughout the 19th century. In 1865 a branch in Simla was opened, then in 1868 another in Bombay. A very large variety of silver is to be found from this enterprise, who appears to have also supplied wares marked for other firms. Ranging from flatware, egg cruets, toast racks, curry pans through to large trophies, meat domes and dishes and even hookah (huqqa) bases. From the very end of the 19th century their wares become more rudimentary and functional adhering to trends in London, and by the middle decades of the 20th century London marked examples are found alongside those that presumably were made locally.
An early 19th century Indian colonial silver hot water jug, Calcutta circa 1810 by Robert Hamilton
An early 19th century Indian colonial silver covered cup, Calcutta dated 1837 by Hamilton and Co
A mid-19th century Indian colonial silver small ewer, Calcutta circa 1850 by Hamilton and Co
A mid-19th century Indian colonial silver cigarillo case, Calcutta circa 1850 by Robert Hamilton & Co
A mid-19th century Indian colonial silver twin handled cup and cover, Calcutta circa 1860 by Hamilton and Co
A pair of mid- 20th century Indian colonial salvers, Calcutta probably 1940 by Hamilton and Co
There were no assay offices in India unlike Britain which co-ordinated the official testing and marking of British made silver. Indian silversmithing firms much like those in Scottish provincial areas thus marked their wares themselves. These pseudo marks involved letters, lions, elephants, cups and covers, fouled anchors, keys, and thistles. There are very many firms responsible for the ‘maker’s mark’ portion of the marks, some are most similar to others while some are still being uncovered, an extensive but not complete list is provided here:
The requirements of the warm environment generated a need to produce wares of a specific function that are particular to this genre of silversmithing. Butter coolers contained an internal lift our liner, so that the cavity could be packed with saltpetre to draw the heat away from the butter preventing it from melting. Milk pans became quite prolific, these heated milk before consumption to arrest any harmful infections within the liquid. So visually similar are these to the early 18th century brandy pans of England that they have long masqueraded under this misnomial function. The most often encountered items produced by colonial firms were christening mugs and condiment casters. The latter coming individually or sets of up to four usually engraved with SALT, PEPPER or CAYENNE, usefully formed for transport they dominated over the open salt preferred in England. Perhaps the most curious development of Indian colonial silversmithing was the combination of functions in one item, something quite familiar by modern standards. In 1838 Hamilton and Co announced the invention of ‘toffee pots’, silver coffee pots designed so that they can also be used as teapots. The multi-faceted curry pans fitted with interchangeable handles so that they could be used to heat milk, or with an added element act as an egg coddler.
An early 19th century Indian colonial unmarked silver butter cooler, Madras circa 1820
A rare set of four mid-19th century Indian colonial silver cruets, Bombay circa 1850 by George Regel and Co (active 1844-52)
A mid-19th century Indian colonial silver milk pan, Calcutta circa 1850 by Hamilton and Co
A mid-19th century Indian colonial silver “toffee” pot, Calcutta circa 1840 by Twentyman and Co (active 1818-20, then 1824-53)
An early 19th century Indian colonial silver small mug, Madras, circa 1814 by Robert Gordon II (active 1802-1818)
An early 19th century Indian colonial silver curry pan with egg coddler, Calcutta circa 1830 by Twentyman and Co (active 1818-20, then 1824-53)
By the late 19th century, the regional specific designs for Indian silver, some of which had emerged by the mid-19th century, were the most dominantly popular form of Indian silverware with the British. At this point all of India had been united under the British Raj, the settler population was larger and due to international exhibitions, a desire for this ‘Raj’ silver was established abroad. Some silverware of usually very plain form was still produced by Hamilton and Co, and some natively owned firms continued to make trophies and cups of European form with embossed ornament, such as an example for the Royal Calcutta Turf Club. Some colonial firms adopted the newly popular regional silversmithing designs, most notably being Peter Orr’s adoption of the Madras Swami style which was certainly exhibited and admired internationally. The punch bowl marked for Cooke and Kelvey below is an unusual hybrid in the that the typically well worked Kashmir chased decoration has been enhanced by cast handles typical of a Calcutta firm. Further information on the ‘Raj’ silver wares can be found in our article Anglo - Indian Silver, The Raj and Regional Design.
Royal Calcutta Turf Club - An early 20th century Indian Colonial unmarked silver presentation twin-handled trophy, Bangalore circa 1928 by T. Lutchmiah Chetty & Sons
A late 19th century Anglo – Indian silver twin handled bowl, Kashmir circa 1880 retailed by Cooke and Kelvey of Calcutta
Wilkinson W., The Makers of Indian Colonial Silver, (1987), London: Wynyard R T Wilkinson.
Wilkinson W., Indian Colonial Silver – European Silversmiths in India and their marks (1790-1860), (1973), London: Wynyard R T Wilkinson.
Wilkinson, W., (1999)., Indian Silver 1858-1947: Decorative Silver from the Indian Sub-Continent and Burma Made by Local Craftsmen in Western Forms. London: Wynyard R T Wilkinson.