The catalogue of The South African Exhibition held at Port Elizabeth in 1885 casts some valuable light on those firms working in the trade in South Africa at this period of time.
The exhibits of jewellery and its cognate branches, especially the manufactures from colonial gold and other productions, formed a most interesting and pleasing feature of the Exhibition. They were interesting ;is showing the immense strides made in these artistic industries during the last decade, and pleasing as exhibiting what exquisitely beautiful ornaments may be made from our own products.
Most important in this section were the exhibits of Messrs. A. Fischer & Co., Port Elizabeth. This firm evidently entered into the spirit of the Exhibition in genuine earnest, and deserve full recognition for their efforts to show their own special wares and to furnish visitors with some insight into the methods of manufacture and repair. In order to illustrate the mechanical parts of their trade, which includes all branches of the manufacture and repair of jewellery, watches and clocks, metal-work within the usual scope of the goldsmith, the silversmith, the lapidary, the enameller, the die sinker, engraver, chaser, embosser and designer, workmen carried on their ordinary routine in the presence of the public, at the stand in the Western room. Although of special concern only to those who could follow the processes of the craftsmen, there was yet much of interest to the general public in watching workmanship in material not usually within reach of the public eye. Visitors had an opportunity of watching the working of the wheel-and pinion cutting machine; the turning lathe for shaping metals and fittings; the mandril used for jewel setting in watch plates, etc.; and a number of other practical illustrations in the mechanism of this important and artistic branch of trade. Throughout the period of the Exhibition this stand attracted interested and inquisitive groups of spectators beyond the usual number cognizant of the trade. The exhibits at this stand were of an elegant and high class character, and many of them possessed, to most spectators, the additional charm of novelty. Amongst the clocks were two which obtained special attention. One was a "one year clock" made by the firm in the colony, in, case of colonial wood, which is so constructed as to resist variations of temperature and keep up to the standard of regulation for 365 days from the time it is wound up. As the firm point out, the great use of such a clock in a public building is obvious. The disadvantages and difficulties of periodical windings in clocks in church and other towers often prove a source of great care and vexation. The other horological novelty was an electric clock, the works of which received their motion direct from the electric current from a battery at the stand. By means of this interesting instrument the time was marked on large dials in conspicuous positions in the hall of the building, and proved of great convenience to the public. The clock has a pendulum beating seconds. It will doubtless be remembered that when this class of instrument was first exhibited in London it was regarded as a great achievement to measure by half-minute jumps. A time ball in connection with this clock was also an interesting novelty.
The firm deserve credit for their exhibits of electric bells and minor apparatus for domestic requirements, and this part of the stand was closely examined and experiments frequently made. The jewellery manufactured in the colony by the firm was beautifully and artistically executed. Some specimens of crocidolite engaged much attention. This stone is to be found in quantity in Griqualand West and adjacent parts, but until a few years ago it has not engaged much attention for purposes of ornament. It seems probable, however, that it will now become popular in Europe. Amongst the raw material on exhibit were specimens of South African gold in quartz, smelted and rolled; mahogany seeds from the Zambesi and Transvaal; brilliant seeds from the West Coast of Africa; seeds from St. John's River ; and various native woods. The specimens of copperplate engravings, &c, were most creditable, considering that this branch is not yet beyond its infancy in this colony.
The designs for the prize medals, which were accepted by the Executive Committee, and other specimens of the art of engraving, showed artistic effort worthy of unqualified commendation.
Messrs. Joseph & Sons, of Port Elizabeth, exhibited a magnificent range of diamond and gold jewellery, gold and crocidolite jewelleryâ€”all elegantly and artistically finished.
The exhibits of Mr. E. W. Shaw, of the Paarl, consisted of handsomely executed work in gold and silver; ostrich egg-shells, mounted in silver ; colonial wood, mounted in argent; clock, etc. A novelty at this stand consisted of a silver-mounted tobacco jar, made of twenty-three kinds of colonial wood.
Mr. B. D. McGill, Port Elizabeth, exhibited some creditable work in jewellery from South African gold; also diamond rings, brooches, &c.
Mr. H. C. Galpin, Graham's Town, exhibited diamond rings and diamond pendants of colonial stones, gold rings, brooches, bangles, &c. Some colonial beetles, mounted as brooch and ear-rings, and other articles of novelty, appeared to great advantage and displayed very creditable effort.
Mr. J. S. Wilcox, of Graham's Town, had on exhibition excellent specimens of engraving in metal and ivory; ornamental engraving; gold and silversmith's work, electroplating and gilding ; jewellery made of South African gold, &c. All the workmanship was colonial, and much practical skill and ability seem to have been displayed, in design and workmanship.
These exhibits of colonial-made jewellery and other articles in variety showed what can be done in the colony with gold and precious stones, and demonstrated that we have the necessary skill, taste and other requisites to hand for the satisfaction of all requirements. Ladies might reasonably initiate the custom of receiving presents of the goldsmith and silversmith's art only when made in the colony.
Source: The South African Exhibition, Port Elizabeth, 1885: lectures, prize and other essays, jury reports and awards. Edited by Charles Cowen F.F.S. - 1886