Urquhart & Hart catered to England’s upper classes

Oblong teapot with embossed, reeded, bright-cut borders, on ball feet, hallmarked Duncan Urquhart & Naphtali Hart, London 1810, 6¼in tall, 713 grams. Realized £360 + buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy Fellows and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK – What an unlikely pair, Duncan Urquhart, a Scottish Christian, and Naphtali Hart, a British Jew. Yet these late 18th century silversmiths fashioned stylish sterling silver dinner ware, tea ware, spoons and flatware in partnership.

Little is known of their lives. Yet records at London’s prestigious Goldsmiths’ Company, which assays gold and silver for purity, reveal that the pair registered their first manufacturer’s mark in 1791, as “buckle makers.” Their creations, by law, depict multiple hallmarks – heraldic lions and crowned leopards (denoting testing and quality control), Sovereign’s Head duty stamps, date letters, as well as DU/NH, their personal maker mark.

Their works, which may have been inspired by recent archeological discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii, feature restrained, Neoclassical forms and style. Functional salvers, basting spoons, cheese scoops, cruet sets, wine funnels and meat skewers, for instance, are often unadorned. Others include delicate basketweave, bead, reed, wriggle, pinprick or gadroon (convex-curved) borders.

Tea caddy tray, 4¾in including finial, 1803. Stand, 5½in, 1805, 12.3 ozt. Realized $1,100 + buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Urquhart & Hart dinnerwares typically display designs with more elaborate motifs, like laurel wreaths, monograms, crests and cartouches edged with stylized rosettes, reed-and-ribbon, acorn-and-oak, or drape-like swag-and-festoon borders. Many are bright-cut, engraved with series of short slits which, by reflecting light, increase their brilliance.

Though Urquhart and Hart hailed from decidedly different worlds, they worked in harmony. Evidently, each also enjoyed freedom of expression. Some of their silver goblets, featuring Hebrew texts or running vine-and-grape motifs, are clearly Jewish kiddish cups, used to ritually bless wine. Some of their teapot bases, inscribed with the Clan Munro motto “Dread God,” evoke Urquhart’s Scottish Highlands roots.

Bright-cut, pierced silver fish slice, Urquhart & Hart, London 1805, 29cm long, 3.7oz. Realized £90 + buyer’s premium in 2013. Image courtesy of Halls Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Since tea leaves were initially exceedingly expensive, indulging became associated with refined table manners and genteel etiquette. Though porcelain tea services were no less appealing, England’s upper classes often preferred far more sumptuous sterling silver. Urquhart and Hart, like their contemporaries Hester Bateman and Paul Storr, catered to their tastes.

Because silver readily conducts heat, Urquhart & Hart teapots frequently feature graceful, ebonized-wood handles, along with fashionable, finely wrought ivory, pineapple or acorn-shaped finials. These components, along with insulators, handle sockets, spouts and moldings, may have been manufactured in specialist workshops.

Tea/coffee set composed of teapot, coffeepot, sugar bowl, creamer, 48 oz. London 1801. Realized $1,100 + buyer’s premium in 2013. Image courtesy of AGOPB and LiveAuctioneers

Silver teapots of this era, some atop tiny, charming bun, ball, fluted or lion’s paw feet, were often flanked by matching creamers and sugar bowls. Yet “objects specifically designed around sugar added to the status of the beverage service and complimented the beautiful vessels made to hold them,” explains food scholar Darra Goldstein in The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. So silver sugar tongs, scissors (to cut lumps), or perforated, ladle-shaped sifters (to sprinkle grated lump, granular or confectioner’s sugar over fruit, cake, or pudding) were usually at hand as well. Since an extravagance of pastries and sweetmeats traditionally accompanied formal afternoon teas, elegant, swing-handled silver cake and bonbon baskets were a la mode as well.

Silver, urn-form mustard pot, bright-cut engraved, gilt interior and glass liner, 10cm high, 3.28ozt, 1797. Realized £400 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Kingham & Orme and LiveAuctioneers

Urquhart & Hart sterling silver sauce boats, salt cellars, pepper shakers and mustard pots, featuring gilt interiors with glass liners, are particularly pleasing.

Their Old English pattern serving spoons, with rounded handle-ends engraved with delicate initials or crests, are as collectible now as then. So are their heavy coin silver teaspoons, sterling silver forks, perforated strainer spoons and “fiddle” spoons, whose curved bodies resemble violins and square stems resemble fingerboards. Moreover, because tea leaves were often stored in ornate tea caddies Urquhart & Hart also fashioned wide, attractive, shell-bowl tea caddy spoons.

George III bright-cut shell-bowl caddy spoon, 7cms. London 1802. Marked Duncan Urquhart & Naphtali Hart. Realized £65 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of John Nicholson Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Duncan Urquhart and Naphtali Hart registered their last maker mark, as advanced plate makers, in 1805. In 1812, however, they dissolved their partnership, “by mutual consent.” Yet their legacy shines on.