T. & J. BRAGG18, Vittoria Street, Regent Place, Birmingham
T & J Bragg - Birmingham - 1858
Thomas and John Bragg entered their mark at the Birmingham Assay Office on the 20th January 1853.
This important firm of Jewellers, T & J Bragg was established c.1811 by Thomas Perry Bragg, from premises in Northwood Street, Birmingham. The move to Vittoria Street occured c.1850, and control of the business passed to the founder's sons, Thomas and John, following their father's retirement in 1852.
John Bragg retired in 1877 and the firm was continued by the partnership of Thomas Bragg, Joseph Henry Wilkinson, Joseph William Tonks, and John Frederick Bolton. Thomas Bragg died, aged 60 years, on the 7th October 1879, and both Wilkinson and Bolton retired in 1882, with Joseph Tonks continuing as sole owner. John Bragg died, aged 77 years, on the 22nd June 1898.
Joseph Tonks died in 1921. He was born at Birmingham in 1841 and studied at the Birmingham School of Art from 1854 until 1863, he spent ten years in the drawing and modelling department at Elkington & Co., and was employed by T & J Bragg as a designer as from 1866.
In 1916 the firm was absorbed into Fattorini & Sons of Bradford, Birmingham, and London. T & J Bragg were noted as exhibitors at the International Exhibition of 1862, and the International Health Exhibition of 1884.
Further information regarding the firm of T & J Bragg can be found in John Culme's 'The Directory of Gold & Silversmiths, Jewellers & Allied Trades 1838-1914'THE JEWELLERY OF MESSRS. THOMAS AND JOHN BRAGG, BIRMINGHAM.
Messrs. T. and J. Bragg, of Birmingham, whose works in Jewellery always command attention wherever they are seen, both from the purity and beauty of their designs and the excellence of the workmanship, are among the most successful of our British Art-Manufacturers in the precious metals. Having a short time back paid a passing visit to their works, we were much struck with the beauty of the various processes which were shown to us, and with the marvellous and intricate nicety of the means employed to perfect the marvels of Art which they produce. We shall not here attempt a word of description of the processes adopted, or of the progress of any special piece of work, from the rough bar of metal to the finished brooch or diadem– tempting though the subject is in every phase–but content ourselves with a few brief lines upon the great advance which Birmingham has of late years made in the Art of Jewellery, and revert to the subject at some future time, so as to speak more in detail of some special Art-productions of this renowned firm.
The noting of the rise and progress of a great industry is one of the most interesting pursuits which can engage the attention of the thoughtful observer; and in no case is this more apparent than in that of the Jewellery trade of Birmingham. From a few score persons who, in the beginning of the present century were, in this "Hardware village" of the Midland Counties engaged in the manufacture of the simplest articles of Jewellery, most of them inexpensive and many of them mere shams, to the eight or nine thousand men, and upwards of a thousand women, now engaged in a trade as various as it is important ; which supplies every quarter of the civilized and uncivilized world with articles of personal ornament, and ministers to the tastes of every grade of society in this country; the change is one of those miracles of which only the nineteenth century can furnish examples. From being what it has long had credit for–the toy-shop of the world–Birmingham has risen to be the largest producing centre of Jewellery of every kind which exists in any nation. It has also become what it has not yet had credit for–the seat of the Goldsmith's Art, and the source from which fashionable London, and the great colonial capitals of our empire obtain their choicest articles of personal ornament. How it has become so may be best told by giving a short account of one of its Jewellery establishments, as the progress of one will give a key to the progress of all; and we have chosen the house which, from its age, as well as from its endeavours to apply Art to this manufacture, has worthily obtained the first place.
In the year 1811, Mr. Thomas Perry Bragg, then a young man. having just attained his majority, commenced business in a small way as a Jeweller. The ideas of what such things as Jewels were in those days must necessarily have been restricted. The brooch, as any of our grandmothers who possess such relics can easily prove to us, was simply a kind of oblong frame, generally set with pearls or garnets, in the centre of which was a plait of the hair of the donor, or of some dear friend, or a miniature likeness painted on ivory or other substance. In process of time the centre became an amethyst, a topaz, or some like stone of colour and brilliancy, set in a narrow mount, of which the gold bore generally but a small proportion to the alloy. Afterwards this was improved upon by brooches of the tube character, very similar to those Scandinavian fibulae which have since become so well known as "Norwegian Jewellery." As with the brooch so with the bracelet. A number of onyx plates or carved pieces of jet, cornelian, or agate, set in frames, or linked together, as Italian Jewellers now mount lava cameos and mosaics; this was sufficient for the majority of the ladies of that period. Earrings were simply carved coral, jet, or other drops, with gold attachments; and gentlemen's scarf pins were grotesque satires upon the heads of animals, dignified with the name of carving, and mounted in common gold.
Such was the condition of Birmingham Jewellery at that period, and from which it began slowly but surely to emerge. Guided by a refined taste, and imbued with the true principles of Art, Mr. Bragg strove to raise the character of his work to a higher level, in preference to increasing the number of his employes; but, when after thirty years' devotion to his business he gave up the concern to his two sons, whose names are at the head of this notice, the development of its resources took place rapidly. The standard of the work was gradually raised, and from the love of art and of good taste which the two sons had cultivated, they were enabled to break through the limits of established custom, and to give a new style to Jewellery. The Exhibition of 1851, in which the firm for prudential reasons (occasioned by the jealousy of wholesale houses), was not directly represented, yet gave an opportunity of comparing English Jewellery with the best productions of foreign nations, and was not without its lessons. From that time the productions of the firm became more remarkable and its business more extensive. A new Art, that of enamelling on gold in various colours, began to be adopted, and many beautiful examples were the result. Messsrs. Bragg were not, however, satisfied with this. They knew that however much the presiding mind might direct the workman in a proper channel, unless the latter had some real art education, no design could be a complete success.
Acting therefore, upon this idea, they made it a rule that every apprentice to their business should receive such Art instruction; and, where the parents of the apprentice were unable to pay for his instruction, it was undertaken by the firm at its own expense. The results of this plan were soon both apparent and profitable. The workmen could not only understand drawings supplied to them, and work from them, but were able to render the true beauty of the lines of every design, and could also give it force and expression.
Another important step taken by the firm at this time was the appointment of a Professional Designer. Mr. J. J. Allen, from all we can learn, has the credit of being the first Artist ever employed in Birmingham in the Jewellery trade, in that capacity; while the Messrs. Bragg have the merit of leading the way in that important reform. As might naturally be expected, therefore, it was found at the Exhibition of 1862 that "Birmingham had achieved a great and unexpected triumph in good gold Jewellery;" and it was acknowledged by the Art Journal in that year (where several examples were engraved), that in this "triumph" "Messrs. Bragg certainly take the lead." Purity of line, and simplicity of form had taken the place of the meretricious placing of gaudy gems and the varieties of unnecessary scrolls which abounded in much Jewellery ot that time, and all the details were artistic and beautifully executed. The firm, in consequence, obtained the only Medal for English Jewellery awarded to a house out of London.
About this time the first Mayor's Chain of Office was made in Birmingham by this house, which has since manufactured many of the most important and elaborate badges of the large towns of the kingdom. M. Alexandre, a French Artist was then engaged as Designer, and was followed by Mr. J. W. Tonks, who now holds the position. In the Exhibition of 1872, the Birmingham Jewellers, for the prudential reasons before referred to, united in exhibiting, but without adding their names to the cases; so that none but those most familiar with the trade could distinguish the works of the different makers. But the Art Journal amply supplied this deficiency, so far as the Messrs. Bragg were concerned, by giving to them two pages (the only ones devoted to Birmingham Jewellery), showing the character and extent of their works. We there find illustrated a gold mounted album, of elaborate workmanship; a mayor's chain; a gold box for presentation of the freedom of a city; vinaigrettes; articles in diamonds and other gems; Egyptian and classic reproductions. A walk through the place, and a glance at the Books of Designs there, show the amazing scope and variety of which the Art of the Goldsmith and Jeweller is capable, and will prove how much has been done by one firm to remove from Birmingham the stigma as to the quality of its manufactures, under which it has so long laboured.
It is one of the popular fallacies of the day. that " Brummagem Jewellery" is a great sham, and that in it the grand old axjom "all is not gold that glitters," is fully exemplified. However true this may be of much that is made in Birmingham, it does not hold good with regard to Messrs. Bragg, who produce only the finest, the best, and the highest class of quality, and the most pure and artistic in design. It has been the fashion of late to advertise "Town-made Jewellery," or "London Jewellery," as the best produced, and to vaunt it as far beyond that made elsewhere, but by "peeping behind the scenes" we are enabled to state that nearly the whole of the "best town-made Jewellery" is manufactured wholesale in Birmingham, and sold readymade and splendidly finished to the London houses, who retail it to their fair and aristocratic customers. We have seen these things in course of manufacture, and watched their progress through various hands, and been amused afterwards in seeing them labelled in London as "real town made!"
Birmingham can, and does, produce the most beautiful, the most costly, and the most exquisitely finished Jewellery in the world, and the establishment of Messrs T. and J, Bragg stands at the head of that successful and purely artistic branch of its trade.
Source: The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist
- Volume 14 - 1874A ROYAL ORDER FOR BIRMINGHAMThe Queen has been graciously pleased to entrust to Messrs, T. and J. Bragg, of Birmingham, the work of mounting a special fan, intended as one of the Royal gifts to the Princess Beatrice on the occasion of her marriage. The desire was that it should be a specimen of English art manufacture. The commission to paint the fan, after a limited competition as to design, was given to Miss Mauly, of the Female School of Art, 43, Queen's Square, Bloomsbury. For the mounting and decoration, Sir Philip Cunliffe Owen, of South Kensington Museum, suggested to Her Majesty the name of Mr. J. W. Tonks, of the above firm, whose designs and productions at the Health Exhibition last year had attracted attention. The Queen expressed her pleasure that the making of the fan should be undertaken by a former student of a British School of Art. The painting is executed upon white silk. A spray of orange blossom forms a feature of the obverse side, the flowers and foliage going below the limit of the silk, and depending gracefully upon the open brins of the fan. In the sky above, a number of young loves are gaily sporting, some with trumpets announcing the happy occasion, others suspending by silken ribbon in mid air the Princess's coronet, having in golden letters beneath it the name " Beatrice." In the distance is an excellent view of Osborne. On the reverse of the fan is painted a stand of bee-hives, with bees approaching another spray of orange blossoms. The framework of the fan is finest ivory, the protecting mounts are in silver, wrought and repoussee work, interspersed with diamonds. The outer edge sloping to the ivory is festooned in a light lace-like pattern in silver cord after the Etruscan manner. The main features of the inner design are boldly raised edges, accentuated at short intervals by diamonds, the largest brilliants finding their places at the leading divisions of tlie mounts. Within these borders the artist in repoussee has had a fair field for the exercise of his best gifts, and has well availed himself of the opportunity. The orange blossom and myrtle have been chosen as the motives of the decoration, and these are continued in flowing lines, each panel being distinct in design, but with equal art in spacing and arrangement, producing a very happy result. The initial letter " B," with coronet over it, appears without undue prominence on the upper mount. A superb ivory box, with initial device, lock and key, is the casket for this specimen of art jewellery. The Royal message respecting it is as follows :–" The Queen expresses her entire satisfaction with and admiration of all its details. It certainly does the highest credit to both the young lady who designed and painted it, and to Messrs. Bragg for the clever and artistic manner in which the mounting has been executed." We are pleased to be able to add that Messrs. T. and J. Bragg have received the Royal Warrant, authorising them to use the words, " By Appointment," for the successful execution of the above order.
Source: The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith
- 5th June 1885