Down here at the vaults we have many things which are useful in the home but sometimes we offer things which have been made purely for decorative purposes.
Among these types of items, some of the most well loved, are the animal figurines.
Most often these will be realistically modelled wild birds and popular domestic animals such as dogs and horses.
Here at I.Franks our own rather large silver menagerie includes dogs and cats, foxes, stags, many types of birds, cows, horses and even a moose.
These figures are often very realistic but sometimes you come across ones which aren't quite as accurate. This is most likely due to the fact that the silversmith might never have seen a lion or penguin and would have presumably had to model it using the drawings of some
hunter or explorer. He could only be as realistic as the drawing he was provided with.
We take it for granted today that we all know our giraffes from our elephants but back in history people often only had the word of others to go by.
Most of the animal figures found in silver today will date from the late 1800’s into the 1900’s.
Probably the most noted maker of these silver models was a German by the name of Ludwig Neresheimer, based in Hanau, near to Frankfurt. From his workshop he produced these sterling silver models specifically for the English market. These would then be sold through Berthold Mullers shop right here in Holborn. It is thought this shop would have been the sole agent for Neresheimer’s work.
Such was the popular demand of these attractive and desirable German figures that the British government levied a vast tax on the importation of purely decorative items to prevent foreign makers from flooding the British market. This new tax made it unrealistic for Muller to continue bringing them into the country.
However, rather cleverly, Neresheimer came up with a solution and in order to get around this problem. He began to produce items with detachable heads or moveable wings in order to pass them off as spice canisters, toys and other ‘useful’ items.
Today, it does amuse people to see that the head simply pulls off the top of the pheasant or other type of model because some of these figures can be quite large and the idea of it being a pepper pot or shaker does seem somewhat over the top.
The models were made in two ways. They would either be hollow and made from a sheet of silver, or they would be cast by pouring the silver into a mold.
These delightful models sit very nicely in the boardroom or dining room and people often seek out animals they might have a particular fondness for.
Whatever the reason for choosing an animal model,it is bound to be a talking point when people realise there is more to them than first meets to eye.