Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers' Marks
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(c.1772 - 1849)

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Sir Edward Thomason; Silversmith, Inventor & Captain of Industry

by Trevor Downes

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Figure 1
When Matthew Boulton died in 1809, at the grand old age of 81, he left not only his great manufactory at Soho, Birmingham but his dreams, spirit and entrepreneurial skills that were already firmly embedded in the mind of a young man, one Edward Thomason.

Boulton's advancement of manufacturing techniques changed not only Birmingham but much of 18th century England and inspired a generation of entrepreneurs. Birmingham at this period was like a huge factory and the world was its customer. Manufacturing in metals was the chief business, with buckle making alone estimated to employ an incredible five thousand workers. Men, women and children made them and men, women and children wore them, everybody, from the king to the farm labourer, and Birmingham satisfied that demand, turning them out by the million.

Figure 2
There were many successful buckle makers besides Boulton, and Edward Thomason's father was no exception. He built his manufactory which included his residence on land at the Colmore Row side of St Phillip's Square and into Church Street in about 1750. The land had been the subject of legal disputes for years and Thomason Senior finally purchased it on a 120 year lease. With the factory up and running his output was prolific making 1,000 pairs a day, six days a week during busy times. He invented one pattern, called the 'silver penny' that was said to have earned him £1,000, and after a successful career retired at the age of 62. However, he was to do two important things beforehand, firstly he articled his son Edward at the age of sixteen to Matthew Boulton to learn the trade and secondly he retained, but left unoccupied, the Church Street factory in c.1790, keeping it in readiness for his son to take over.

Figure 3
1793 saw Edward Thomason in charge of this factory, inspired by his time with Matthew Boulton, he was full of ideas and was a human dynamo. He started at first making gilt and plated buttons of the finest quality and then gold jewellery, this was followed by the striking of gold, silver and bronze tokens and medals, and silver toys, watch chains, buckles.. etc. and in a very short time increased the sales space to an amazing twelve showrooms.

Always desperate to make a name for himself, Thomason also turned his mind to inventions. His first project, dating to 1796, was a design for an unmanned fireship that would destroy the French fleet whilst they were still in dock; it was rejected by the Admiralty. This project was followed, in 1797, by the idea of a wind powered water pump that again failed to impress. These setbacks did nothing to dampen the spirit of Thomason, if anything they drove him on.

Figure 4
His next invention for retractable carriage steps in 1799, found some favour, he patented the device and manufactured and sold some one hundred sets to coach makers. The year 1799 saw Edward Thomason get married to Phillis Bown Glover.

On 7th May 1802 Thomason hit the jackpot when he entered patent no. 2617, for a improvement to the corkscrew. The next fourteen years saw his factory turn out 130,000 units before allowing others to manufacture under licence and the design is still to this day considered by many to be the finest corkscrew ever made. Perhaps Thomason knew this as each one carried the motto "Ne Plus Ultra" (None Better).

Figure 5
Production at the manufactory continued at an amazing rate, turning out silver spoons, sugar tongs, wine labels, jewellery, etc. His success with his inventions continued, including the extending toast fork complete with ejector plate in 1809, and such diverse items as swordsticks, walking canes that incorporated a cigar lighter, safety catches for guns. He even created a patented dice thrower, albeit strictly for backgammon; Thomason was a devoutly religious man. His wife Phillis also got in on the act entering a patent on 19th April 1809 for 'an improved mode of making umbrellas and parasols'.

The years 1806 and 1807 saw great shortages of coinage in Great Britain with Boulton and Thomason working flat out supplying tokens. Thomason is known to have supplied two orders to Welsh mine owners for £5,000 and £10,000 of silver and bronze tokens, and Crowns, Half Crowns, Shillings and Sixpences for the Douglas Bank on the Isle of Man. The reputation of his work in this field saw him receive orders for silver coinage from as far afield as Africa. Thomason also produced many series of medals of the finest quality, depicting religious, political and historical events.

Figure 6

A typical example of Thomason's entrepreneurial skills was achieved in 1807. Henri Christophe, a revolutionary General who had helped oust the French from the island of St. Domingue, became the second President of Haiti after the assassination of Jean-Jacques Dessalines. Aware that the new ruler was hostile to Europeans, Thomason decided to appeal to Christophe's vanity; he somehow managed to acquire the text of the new president's first speech to the Haitian people, and within three weeks had struck a medal with a portrait of the new leader on one side and an extract of the speech on

Figure 7
the reverse. He duly dispatched 5,000 of the medals and samples of his other manufactures along with one of his managers. The flattered Christophe accepted the gifts and appointed Thomason sole supplier for Birmingham wares and gave an order for a large gold box, the first of several orders Thomason executed for Christophe.

Figure 8
Thomason's factory was regularly visited by representatives from foreign governments keen to learn his advanced manufacturing methods. He was always delighted to escort them on a tour of the works and to send gifts to all important dignitaries from around the world, thus promoting his business to worldwide fame.

January 1810 saw Thomason extend his factory to start production of close plated knives, forks and spoons. The following year he received an order for two million copper tokens from Samuel Fereday the great Iron-master.

Figure 9

According to the Birmingham Assay Office Site, Edward Thomason entered his first mark on 20th September 1815, followed by another on 16th August 1820 and another on the 11th July 1821. Although Jackson's has first mention of him during the period 1803-1807, a date I feel more likely to be correct.

Thomason's business went from strength to strength, producing large amounts of items for export. He was appointed vice-council at Birmingham to no less than eight countries, France, Austria, Russia, Prussia, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Sweden and Norway, and was personally awarded over thirty foreign orders of merit. In 1818 be was made High Bailiff of Birmingham and in 1832 was knighted by King William IV.

Figure 10
1844 saw his retirement from business and the writing of his memoirs, published in 1845. The business was sold in 1835 to George Richmond Collis & Co. the same firm that bought many of the models at the dissolution sales after the winding up of Rundell, Bridge & Rundell. Thus designs by Paul Storr were now being made at Sir Edward's old factory. In 1870 the original lease on the old manufactory expired and this part of Birmingham was redeveloped. Ironically the architect for many of the new buildings on this site was Sir Edward's Grandson, H. R. Yeoville Thomason.

Sir Edward Thomason died at home in Jury Street, Warwick on the 29th May 1849. He is buried in the family vault in St Phillip's Church, Birmingham.

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Edward Thomason
Sir Edward Thomason's Memoirs During Half Century
Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1845

Frederick Leigh Colville, M.A
The Worthies of Warwickshire, who lived between 1500 and 1800
Henry T. Cooke and Sons, London, 1869

W. Hawkes Smith
Birmingham and its Vicinity, as a Manufacturing & Commercial District
J. Drake, Birmingham, 1836

R. Ransome-Wallis
Matthew Boulton and the Toymakers
Birmingham Assay Office, 1982

John Culme
The Directory of Gold & Silversmiths, Jewellers And Allied Traders 1838-1914
Antique Collectors Club Ltd., 1987

John Culme
Nineteenth Century Silver
Country Life Books / Antique Collectors Club, 1977

Ian Pickford
Jackson's Silver and Gold Marks of England, Scotland & Ireland
Antique Collectors Club, 1989

Related Pages at

British Hallmarks Explained
London Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Birmingham Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Chester Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Exeter Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Newcastle Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Sheffield Date Letters & Maker's Marks
York Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Edinburgh Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Glasgow Date Letters
Dublin Date Letters
British Import Marks

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