Canadian Silversmiths of the 20th Century

Of the many Canadian silversmiths working in the 18th and 19th century, most were in Montreal or Quebec City but there were also a number in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces. These silversmiths generally had small shops, did most of their work by hand and produced goods in traditional English or French styles.  (For detailed information on 18th and 19th century silversmiths working in Canada please see Canadian Silversmiths 1700-1900 by John E. Langdon).

By the beginning of the 20th century the last of these small firms had been replaced by larger firms with mechanised factories that could produce much larger quantities.  The styles were still predominantly English but the influence of American silversmiths such as Gorham and Tiffany was starting to take hold and became stronger as the century advanced. The following is a discussion of the major Canadian manufacturers of sterling silverware in the 20th century.

Henry Birks & Sons

Birks was by far the largest and most influential silverware manufacturer in Canada during the 20th century. Henry Birks & Company was established in Montreal in 1879 as a retail jeweller. In 1893 Henry Birks’ three sons joined the business and the name was changed to Henry Birks & Sons. In 1897 Birks bought out Hendery & Leslie, their largest supplier of silverware, and began manufacturing their own products. Over the next 50 years Birks expanded by buying up established jewellers across the country. They also took over their rivals in manufacturing until they had a virtual monopoly on the production and sale of sterling silverware in Canada.

Birks’ earliest production included hollowware and flatware in a few English patterns such as Old English and Fiddle. In 1907 Birks acquired the Gorham Company of Canada and with it the exclusive rights to manufacture and sell several of Gorham’s patterns in Canada such as Chantilly and Pompadour. Birks acquired several more designs from Gorham and other manufacturers later in the century and also designed a few of their own patterns like Tudor and Laurentian. Birks manufactured their own flatware and some of their hollowware in their factory in Montreal up until the early 1990s when the factory was closed and production was moved offshore. In the early part of the century the factory employed nearly 300 people. Some of hollowware was purchased from manufacturers in the UK and the US and sold under the Birks label.

Birks earliest silver mark (1879-1897) was a retailer’s stamp of H.B. & Co. added to the pseudo marks of Hendery & Leslie. Their second mark was introduced when Birks bought out Hendery & Leslie in 1897 and became manufacturers themselves.  It included Birks along with the same pseudo marks previously used by Hendry and Leslie: a lion rampant, a sovereign’s head and a date letter.

Birks Sterling HallmarkEarly Birks Makers Mark

From 1903 until approximately 1930 Birks sterling hollowware and flatware was marked either with Birks Sterling in the font shown below with serifs or with Birks in a rectangular outline followed by Sterling.

Birks Sterling Hallmark Birks Silver Mark

In 1925 Birks received permission from the London assay office to mark their sterling silver with a date letter cycle that corresponded to the London cycle. From this time most of their hollowware was marked with Birks Sterling (no serifs) and a set of pseudo hallmarks that included a sheaf of wheat (Trademarked by Birks), a lion passant, and a date letter that corresponded to the London date letter for the year of production. Their flatware was typically marked simply with Birks Sterling (no serifs), sometimes followed with the date letter and very occasionally with the full set of pseudo marks. In the late 30s the sheaf of wheat mark was replaced by the Canadian National Mark (a Lion’s head surrounded by a C). Note: Pieces are occasionally found with these marks before 1925; the pseudo marks used then were a lion, beaver and date letter.

Canadian Silversmiths marks Birks Date Cycle Marks

Birks modern production is marked with Birks Sterling above a lion rampant.

Birks Canadian Silver Mark

PW Ellis & Co.

PW Ellis & Co. was established in Toronto in 1879 and produced a wide range of silver hollowware and flatware. Their designs were heavily influenced by styles from England and they manufactured several different flatware patterns including Lancaster Rose, Chippendale, Old English, Old English Thread (Saxon) and Louis XV.  Ellis was taken over by Birks in 1928.

The Ellis mark is strikingly similar to Gorham’s, an anchor on its side, an E surrounded by a maple leaf and a lion passant.

PW Ellis Silver makers mark

Roden Bothers

Established in Toronto in 1891 Roden Brothers produced a wide range of silver hollowware and flatware in traditional English styles. They offered several different flatware patterns including Stratford, Queens, and Louis XV. Goldsmiths Stock Company were their exclusive selling agents from 1900 to 1922, they were taken over by Birks in 1953.

Roden’s mark included the word Sterling, followed by 925, an R and a lion passant.

Roden Brothers silver mark Roden Brothers Toronto Silver Mark

Ryrie Bros.

Ryrie Brothers was a jeweller established in Toronto in 1897 and was taken over by Birks in 1905. They sold hollowware and some flatware under the name Ryrie until 1914 and Ryrie-Birks until 1924 but apparently did not have their own facilities for manufacturing silverware.

Ryrie Brothers Silver mark

Carl Poul Petersen

According to his family history Carl Poul Petersen was apprenticed at George Jensen in Denmark before emigrating to Canada in 1929. He worked intermittently at Henry Birks and Sons in Montreal until 1944 but he set up a studio to do commission work in the late thirties.  Petersen opened his permanent studio in 1944 and registered his company, C.P. Petersen & Sons, in 1946.

Unlike his rivals at Birks, Petersen’s production was largely by hand and his designs were inspired by the naturalistic forms of Danish silver particularly those designs by Georg Jensen and Johan Rhode. He produced eleven flatware patterns, an extensive range of hollowware, silver and gold jewellery and a line of Judaica.  Petersen’s work is by far the most collectible of all the 20th century Canadian Silversmiths.

C.P. Petersen & Sons was in business until 1979 but the majority of their domestic silver was produced in the late forties and fifties.  Petersen is perhaps most famous for his work on behalf of the National Hockey League. He was commissioned to reproduce the Stanley Cup in 1962 and also to make the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy and the William Masterton Memorial Trophy.

Petersen’s silver was marked with his trademark PP underlined three times, Sterling, and usually also with Petersen, the words Hand Made and the Canadian National Mark.

Poul Petersen Siver Mark Poul Petersen Silversmith Mark

William Maurice Carmichael

Although he cannot be properly considered “a major manufacturer” we have a soft spot for William Maurice Carmichael as he was the only Canadian silversmith of note from British Columbia. While the majority of Carmichael’s production was high quality silver plate he did make a number of sterling silver articles for his general stock and for special commissions. Carmichael was trained as an engineer and started in business in Victoria in 1920 after returning from the First World War.  In 1924 George Bennett Sr., a local silversmith who had trained in Britain joined the firm.

The business grew quickly and offered a wide range of goods that became tremendously popular as wedding and christening gifts. Carmichael produced goods using a combination of hand and machine work and made numerous special commissions including The Thunderbird & Whale Bowl presented to King George V by the Government of British Columbia. Carmichael’s designs were commonly inspired by English silver but also included local elements such as Dogwood flowers and first nations motifs. The shop remained in business until shortly before Carmichael’s death in 1954.

Carmichael’s earliest mark was W.M.C in a rectangle, and his later mark was an M surrounded by a C in a shield.  His sterling pieces include Sterling and the Canadian National Mark (after 1934).

Early Carmichael Silver Mark William Maurice Carmichael Victorian Silversmith mark

 

Emerson Houghton

Born in Birmingham, England in 1889, Emerson Houghton received silversmith training until 1911 when he immigrated to Canada. Houghton settled in Toronto and began working at Roden Bros. Houghton’s Silverware and Plating Ltd. was established in Toronto in 1920 and specialized in ecclesiastical pieces in sterling, silver plate and brass. Houghton passed away in Toronto in 1965 but his business operated until the late 1980s.

Emerson Houghton silver mark

The National Mark

In 1934 the Government of Canada instituted a national mark for items made of precious metal that are wholly manufactured in Canada.  The mark was a lion’s head inside a letter C as shown above with WM Carmichael’s mark.  (It was changed to a maple leaf inside a letter C in 1978.)