The electroplating firm of Elkington and Co is of interest to these pages for its sculptural work, on the small scale, and more importantly, for full-sized bronze statues. The company was set up by two cousins, George Richards Elkington (1801-1865) and Henry Elkington (1810-1852), who along with others, were experimenting with electroplating base metals during the 1830s. By 1840 they had patented their method in Britain and France, and bought out competing patent-holders, though they later licensed the process to various firms in England and abroad. The Elkington factory was in Newhall Street, Birmingham, and they also opened premises in London. In 1842 they took on a third partner, called Josiah Mason, and the firm became Messrs Elkington, Mason and Co.
‘Messrs Elkington have now in constant operation a stupendous machine constructed for the application of Magneto-Electric power, .. The armature of the machine, set in motion by a small steam-engine, revolves at 500 times in a minute, at a short distance from the poles of a series of 64 permanent magnets, arranged in a circle… sufficient to deposit 50 ounces of silver per hour. This machine has been in operation almost continually day and night for six months, with scarcely any perceptible variation in its energy.
By the time of the Great Exhibition they were the leading producer of plated wares,
'...celebrated electro-plate manufactures, a branch of industrial art which has made immense strides since the patent for the various processes of gilding and plating metals by the agency of electricity was granted to this firm in 1840. Messrs Elkington alone employ about 500 work-people in their establishment, and about 30 other British manufacturers have licences to use this process, which is also extensively adopted in foreign countries...'
The process for electrotyping (duplicating) to make statues was described thus:
'...to such perfection has the process been brought that not only are silver waistcoat-buttons and exquisite pieces of bijouterie produced, but a statue of bronze, as large as that of the Duke of Wellington at Hyde Park Corner, could be made of any thickness merely by electrical deposits... in fact the figures are hollow, and the entire substance employed is unalloyed bronze. To produce an electro-deposited figure, the model of it is formed, and from this a mould of fine clay or plaster is taken, the interior of the mould being thus an exact counterpart of the exterior of the model. On this being placed in a trough containing a solution of copper, the mould is rendered conducting, and the metal, gradually deposited inside the mould, becomes, in its turn, an exact counterpart of the original model. It will be understood from this brief description, that from the metal not shrinking in cooling, as in ordinary instances of casting, beauties and faults must alike be copied. The product in bronze is, in fact, an exact reproduction of the artist's conception, unalloyed by any mechanical imperfection almost necessarily attendant on the old process.'
Elkington Show Rooms.
Commenting on the success of the firm, writing shortly after the Exhibition, an art magazine wrote that
The show-rooms, which, astounding as it may seem, are longer than the body of the far-famed Birmingham Town-hall, though, of course, they are not to be compared in height with that splendid pile. … One division of these rooms is appropriated to bronzes: the Theseus reduced from the work of Phidias, among the Elgin Marbles, the Venus di Medici, Eve’s Hesitation by John Bell, with other works of modern art, a colossal head of Ocean from the Antique, with his sea-weed beard, and other marine appurtenances of the watery god...
Prominent is a bronze group, showing Tewdric the Great, King of Gwent and Glamorgan, who is shown wounded, yet urging on the pursuit of the flying Saxons, attended by his daughter, and an aged bard in the act of proclaiming the victory...' [I believe this work, on the left in the engraving above, is the one now in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
The firm employed artists and designers from England and abroad. Among sculptors mentioned on these pages who were associated with Elkington's were Albert Toft, A. C. Lucchesi and John Bell. Remarkably, the firm survived until the 1960s before being bought up and then closed down.
Large statues made at Elkington may be seen at Holborn Viaduct. Examples of their more typical silverwork are in the collection of the museum in Birmingham.
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