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Benjamin Smith II (1764 - London 1823) An Imposing & Extremely Rare George III Vase & Cover

An Imposing & Extremely Rare George III Vase & Cover
London, 1811
Maker’s mark of Benjamin & James Smith

Height: 37cm, 14.5in; weight:4,260g, 136oz 18dwt

This extraordinary vase was after a engraving of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. It is recorded in volume II of Piranesi's Vasi, Candelabri in 1778.

Additional Images Silversmith Biography

Son of Ralph Smith of Birmingham, born 15 December 1764. Married firstly, 8 October 1788, Mary Adams at Egbaston parish church. Apparently to be identified with 'Mr. Smith' introduced through James Alston, on recommendation of 'Mr Nevill,' to Matthew Boulton at Birminham, (Letter dated 18 May 1790. Birmingham Assay Office), then described as 'an Ingeneous Chaser.' By September 1792 the firm of Boulton and Smith, latchet manufacturers was in existence, from the evidence of a specification endorsed 'Smith Buckle Invention' signed James Smith, from which it is clear that both Benjamin and James were with Boulton. In March 1794 they were joined by John Lander, jeweller, who had invented an 'Elastic Shoe Latchet', when Benjamin and James are button makers. Disagreement developed in 1801 when Benjamin threatened to withdraw and go to London and a new partnership was drawn up between Boulton and James in 1802. On 1 February 1802, Benjamin married secondly Mary Shiers at Greenwich Church, by which time he was presumably setting up the workshop there. First mark, in partnership with Digby Scott, 4 October 1802. Address: Limekiln Lane, Greenwich. Second mark together, 21 March 1803. The partnership apparently dissolved by 11 May 1807, when Smith entered a third separate mark. Fourth mark, 25 June 1807. Fifth mark in partnership with his brother James, 23 February 1809. Sixth seperate mark, 14 October 1812. Seventh mark, 15 January 1814. Eighth mark in partnership with his son Benjamin, 5 July 1816. Address: Camberwell. Ninth mark alone again, 25 June 1818. By his first marriage Smith had four sons, of whom Benjamin was the eldest and three daughters, and by Mary Shiers a fourth daughter in 1803 at Greenwich. His third son Digby, born 2 June 1797, may be assumed to be the godson of Digby Scott. There seems little doubt from the accounts preserved in the Boulton papers at Birmingham that Smith was of a difficult and probably irascible nature and this borne out with the variations in his entry of marks with and without partners. His firm was of course, together with Storr, manufacturing almost entirely for Rundell and Bridge, and it seems that the later may have supported Smith's move to London. The firm's most important production is probably The Jamaica Service of 1803 in The Royal Collection. The silver-gilt trays, baskets, and wine coasters with open-work vine borders are among the most distinctive and accomplished achievements. The designs, so closely related to those of Storr, most almost certainly stemmed from central control by Rundell and Bridge.


In silver, the form was made by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell as early as 1805 in the Greenwich workshops of Benjamin Smith II and later in Dean Street under Paul Storr’s direction circa 1815. However, these were vases for sugar or cream and a mere seven to eight inches in height. This wonderful example is virtually unique in both its stature and presence and would have simply been an indulgence and joy for the eye.

Piranessi produced a series’ of marble vases during the 1770’s. With their combination of classical foliate motifs and elegant classical shape based on the Roman urns. They appealed to the European visitors to Rome, particularly the British.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) is most renowned as an etcher and engraver, and his series of etchings of real and imaginary architectural settings were a great influence on artists and patrons of the mid-18th century. His interpretations of ancient Roman art inspired writers and artists alike.

During the18th century many aristocratic visitors went to Rome; for the British, this was part of the Grand Tour, often the completion of a young gentleman's education. Many Italian artists, as well as artists from other European countries, especially Britain, worked in Rome, and their workshops were much visited by patrons. The ancient remains of Rome, such as the Colosseum and the Forum were explored by connoisseurs and tourists, and excavated sculptures were displayed and often sold to foreign visitors. In addition many artists, such as Piranesi, made pastiche ancient objects, while other sculptors heavily restored fragments of ancient sculpture, which were then sold as authentic antique pieces.

An Imposing & Extremely Rare George III Vase & Cover (1764 - London 1823) Reference: DT20.89.1