An article regarding the National Exhibition of 1852 that was held at Cork:
SILVER PLATE AND JEWELLERY
If the reader would wish to be satisfied that the silver trade did flourish in Ireland, in other days, it is not impossible to convince him that it did. He has but to apply to some friendly jeweller and silversmith, or extensive pawn-broker, in any of our cities or large towns, and induce him to permit a peep at his store of old silver—not meaning thereby old in the sense which we use the term when we speak of old iron; but costly and beautiful articles, in a high state of preservation—the cherished heirlooms of many a proud family of historic name— that oft-times sparkled on sideboard and table amid a blaze of wax lights, and added éclat to stately banquet and glad festival. Take up any one article that most attracts your attention, from its elegance of form, its artistic beauty of design, or the workman-like skill of its execution; but do so with tenderness, for it has seen better days. Examine the workmanship, inspect it with searching and critical eye; look into the lines of the engraving, and the figures of the chasing; see how bold the design, how profuse but yet how chaste the ornament, how delicate and fine the execution; and, after you have gratified your curiosity and your taste, search for the maker's name and the hall-mark, and, ten to one, the name and mark are both Irish—genuine Irish. Alas! that what is a testimony to the former capability of our country, should also be an evidence of its late disaster. The maker's name and the Irish harp are both conclusive proofs of what was done in Ireland at one time; but these carelessly heaped-up evidences of former grandeur are a sad indication of its present decay. The potato-rot stripped the sideboard of its gorgeous ornaments, the plate-chest of its rich contents, and for a time almost put a stop to the manufacture of plate in this country. But long before the late crowning disaster glutted the shops of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and the other large towns, with the first sad offering to the evil genius of the hour, the silver trade had greatly fallen off in Ireland A hundred years ago, it flourished in this city, as well as in Dublin; the largest and most costly articles being manufactured, as well as every description of the smaller or more ordinary article; but—and I simply mention it as a matter of history—it continued to fall away rapidly since the Union, and is now utterly extinguished in Cork, though not in Dublin, where some work is done to this day, and of an excellent description.
The amount of duty paid on gold and silver in Ireland for four years will best exemplify the extent of, as well as the falling off in, this once prosperous trade :—
1848 duty paid £1,183 17 11
1849 ............£1,016 6 10
1850 ............£865 14 1
1851 ........... £730 19 7
I understand it is now beginning to improve, the deluge of old silver having nearly wasted itself out. Besides, people are begining to have returning confidence in the position of affairs, and are again supplying themselves with articles of luxury, though far more sparingly than in other times.
Amongst the most eminent of the former manufacturers of this city, were—George Hodder, Terry and Williams, and John Nicholson. The latter flourished more than half-a-century back; but no latter than a few days since I had the satisfaction of inspecting an exquisite piece of work bearing his name. It was shewn to me by its present possessor (Mr. Hawkesworth, of the Grand Parade, Cork), who, a thorough judge himself, descanted with enthusiasm on its beauty; and not without justice, for I have never seen anything superior to it, in shape, design, or execution.
It was a chololate pot, graceful as an Etruscan cup in its outline, profuse in ornament at once fanciful and elegant, and finished in a style that would not have disgraced the cunning hand of Benvenuto Cellini. It could with great difficulty be equalled, certainly, not excelled, by any artist of the present day. The immediate spout, or mouth, is wrought in the form of an eagle's head; its centre, or swell, being ornamented with the head of a Grand Turk, most delicately chiseled; and, on the body of the article, are mingled, in beautiful confusion, dragons, dogs, birds, and flowers, with chasing of the most elaborate and elegant kind.
I may here state, that there were in this city, in the year 1800, about fifty silversmiths, and twenty goldsmiths—all first-rate workmen. Now there is not a single manufacturer.
It is scarcely possible to say why this trade has gone down so much in Ireland; but, besides the withdrawal of the duty on imported plate and jewellery, by which the home trade was protected, I should say, want of encouragement to the native manufacturer, and complete indifference on the part of the customer, or the public, as to where the required article was made, had a great deal to do with it; together with the gradual and increasing absenteeism of the Irish gentry, consequent upon the extinction of the Irish legislature. Not only have individuals been indifferent to the make of the silver used for domestic purposes—forks, spoons, tea services, salvers, breadbaskets, claret jugs, wine-coolers, &c.,—but the public, when they desire to compliment an individual, by a presentation of plate, are insensible to the injury which they inflict on their native workmen, by sending the work out of the country, and totally unconscious of the good which they might be the means of accomplishing, by insisting, as an indispensable condition, that the work should be done at home.
I believe there are no people in this world of ours more addicted to testimonials, and presentations of plate, than the Irish. Here, it is a grand centre-piece for the table—there, it is a modest salver; to-day, it is a claret jug—the next day, an ink-stand—and the day after, a tea-urn. The Protestant clergyman is now complimented with a tea-service, the Catholic priest is again presented with a chalice. In fact, there is no class of men, of a certain social standing, who is not liable, one day or other, to be made the subject of a flattering address, and the proud recipient of an appropriate testimonial—from a snuff-box up to the costly garniture of a whole sideboard. Let a judge retire from the bench—the lawyers must pass resolutions, write an address, and purchase a piece of plate. Let a member of Parliament take up any peculiar question in the house, and immediately those interested proceed to the silver-smith on behalf of their champion. Let a nobleman, or great squire, gratify his passion for the turf, by acting the welcome part of a patron of local sport, and the idea of immortalising his favorite horse, or hound, in frosted silver, is carried into practice in a hand-gallop. Let a mayor be hospitable, a magistrate be active or civil, a secretary be attentive, a chairman be patient—in fact, let anybody be anything, and he is at once made the happy victim of a suitable testimonial. Do I "write this in an idle spirit? Nothing of the kind. My meaning is obvious. I have sufficiently shewn there is still a large demand for silver plate in Ireland, and, as times improve, that demand will be still larger; and, in spite of all that I have heard said to the contrary, I believe it is quite possible, I will not say to restore the trade to its former position—for that, under all probable circumstances, seems out of the question—but to revive it considerably. My notion is this, that those who take it into their heads to pay a tribute to deserving individuals, or to compliment men because of some service, whether real or imaginary, should also remember that they could make their act the opportunity of doing good to others; and that, if the committees having the management of these matters would only insist on having the article required made in Ireland, it could and would be made there. But if there be no inquiry as to where or how it is to be done, the Irish silversmith, who receives the order, sends it on to his correspondent in London, and procures it with great facility, and certainly of a first-rate quality. The reader will at once see how this indifference, either of the individual or the public, re-acts upon the home trade and the country. The workman follows the work, and therefore goes to London, where the order is sent to be executed; whereas, were it made imperative upon the party receiving the order that the work should be done at home, the workman would either stay at home, or return home, to do it; for he would thus have the employment and remuneration he is reluctantly compelled to seek elsewhere.
There is one peculiar article—Church Plate—which is almost entirely made in Ireland, scarcely any of what is used either in Protestant or Catholic churches being imported. The beautiful church plate exhibited by Mr. Donegan of Dublin was well worthy of the best days of the trade in Ireland.
It is strictly within the limits of truth to state, that Irish jewellery, or ornaments for the person, was, at one time, of the very highest order of merit; and though there is not much made in that department at present, still it is of a superior description, and may be relied upon by the purchaser. I do not take it upon me to say that all the articles exhibited were Irish; and if not, so much to the disgrace of those who exhibited them—but if they were, they certainly reflected credit on the trade which they represented.
The exhibitors of plate and jewellery, from Dublin, were— W. Acheson—a great variety of beautiful jewellery. Thomas Bennett, a case of very beautiful articles of various kinds, including tea service, salvers, tea kettles, cups, ornaments in silver and bog-oak, &c., and a centre piece with ten inch figures designed by Kirk, the Irish artist, and representing Hibernia, Commerce, and Ceres; which article bore the Irish hall mark, and seemed, to me, to be admirably wrought. John Donegan—church plate, in gold and silver. Flavelle—masonic ornaments; also, model of the ark of the covenant, in silver. W. Broderick—various articles of jewellery. Thomas Burke—jewellery and insignia of masonic order. Thomas Forster—a frame pf gems. Waterhouse and Co.—three large cases of jewellery and plate of every description, including a splendid collection of gold and silver imitations of the ancient Irish brooches, for an account of the most splendid of which— The Royal Tara Brooch—I would refer the reader to the chapter on Irish Antiquities. West and Son—drawing of a silver mace, in progress of manufacture for the college of physicians; magnificent silver salver, carved out of the solid, in high relief; carved oak wine-cooler, lined with silver; also, a case of sumptuous jewellery. Wall and Brother—electro-plated tea-service. John Smith—exhibited specimens of electro-plated articles, including spoons, forks, sugar-tongs, tea-service, &c. Denis Connell—a great variety of bog oak ornaments, mounted in Wicklow gold and silver, and set with Irish stones. This was one of the most beautiful and interesting cases in the exhibition. Samuel Mahoods—even brooches in bog oak.
Cork—Margaret Hackett, a beautiful and varied collection of rings, chains, brooches, pins, clasps, &c., besides various articles in silver plate.
Drogheda—Thomas North, a most interesting case of electro-plated articles of every kind, including salvers (some of them but half covered, shewing the other half copper) tea service, candlesticks, spoons, forks, &c. Mr. North also exhibited an instrument of his own invention, which he terms an "electro-therapeuticon," by which the application of the galvanic current is rendered easy and certain.
Source: The Industrial Movement in Ireland: As Illustrated by the National Exhibition of 1852 - John Francis Maguire M.P., Mayor of Cork - 1853