BY TONY PRATT, THE CANTERBURY AUCTION GALLERIES
Engineer and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) was one of the most famous industrialists of his age whose Soho Works in Birmingham was the largest hardware factory in the world.
Noted for the steam engines he built in partnership with James Watt, collectors revere him for his highly prized gold and silver objects that once graced the homes of the Georgian elite.
Intent on challenging French dominance in the market, he visited Paris in 1765 to learn the secrets of the bronze workshops there before returning to establish a department whose sole purpose was the large-scale production of ormolu. The alloy of copper, zinc and tin produced gilt bronze ormolu mounts that gave objects the appearance of literally dripping with gold.
The choice of Europe’s crowned heads, however, were ormolu-mounted vases – like this pair made from purple, blue and yellow fluorspar known as Blue John, a rare semi-precious mineral found only in mines in Castleton, Derbyshire. George III and Queen Charlotte were among his customers, buying several from him in 1770.
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