The History of Mappin & Webb
Mappin & Webb are one of the most famous silversmiths that the UK has produced, with a long and intricate history spanning centuries. As with many successful silversmiths, Mappin & Webb have had many incarnations, and have taken over and been part of many other companies throughout their past.
At AC Silver we are fortunate enough to have many fine examples of Mappin and Webb cutlery and Mappin and Webb silver, with pieces ranging across the different assay offices that the company operates from, and items of many different styles and eras.
Mappin & Webb- due to the size and reach of the company- had manufactories and makers in London, Sheffield and Birmingham, though the origin of Mappin & Webb was in 1775, when Jonathan Mappin opened a silver workshop in Sheffield. Within just a year the first incarnation of a Mappin hallmark had been recorded at the Sheffield Assay Office.
In 1849, Joseph Mappin opened his first London showroom, and by 1864 Mappin, Webb & Co was formed. ‘Mappin & Webb Ltd ‘ was first recorded in 1889, and at this stage the business was focused on manufacturing based in Sheffield.
Mappin Brothers Ltd. are a company which grew alongside the rapid growth of the British Empire, and soon they were opening stores across the world. In 1903, John Mappin acquired the original London retail business, Mappin Brothers, and from 1899, the Company was known as ‘Mappin & Webb Ltd incorporating Mappin Brothers’. This double naming of the retailers is evident in photographs from this era which show both Mappins and Mappin & Webb names on shop exteriors.
Mappin and Webb silver is collectable due to their fantastic reputation, garnered over centuries of creation and innovation, constantly adding to their business by expanding and accumulating other companies within the silver or retail market. At first Mappin & Webb specialised in silver cutlery, however they quickly diversified and now are considered to be makers of the highest quality silverware.
Within a year the first Mappin hallmark was recorded at the assay office and in 1780 Jonathan Mappin was given the Freedom of The Cutlers Company of Hallamshire. This company was incorporated in 1624 to provide control over those making cutlery near Sheffield, maintaining high standards and Sheffield’s reputation for making exceptional silver cutlery, and to promote Sheffield as a place of expertise. The Company and Sheffield’s cutlery trade and status as an area known for having an outstanding Silver trade still exist to this day.
Mappin and Webb have truly been a large factor in Sheffield recognition as one of the world’s leading silver cutlery manufacturers, and Mappin and Webb silver is collected all over the world, with pieces ranging from affordable prices to luxury wares with exceptional heritage.
In 1890 the first overseas boutique was established in Johannesburg with the discovery of gold in the Witwaters Rand, and during the First World War the company gave their Sheffield factories over to the war effort, producing army clothing, munitions and fine waterproof watches for the Admiralty. From this came new varieties of business for the company- equipping hotels, restaurants, clubs, military messes, shipping and railway companies all over the world.
The company’s initial success in the early stages of their business is due to the range and variety of silver that they sold- being both low end utilitarian silverware, and high end presentation pieces. This meant that the name of the company was widespread but simultaneously held under high regard.
The company also gained fame and recognition through the ownership and merging of other companies that has occurred over their 240 year history, with numerous members of the immediate family branching into other businesses, and then imbuing their knowledge and reputation into the family company. Both of these factors contribute to the enormous growth and reach of Mappin & Webb.
During the early twentieth century, the company’s notoriety soared through visits from celebrities such as Houdini, with a Maharajah commissioning an entire bedroom made of silver furniture – including a silver four poster bed! This was then on display in Sotheby’s window, and attracted such large crowds that police were forced to intervene. Scenes such as these were undoubtedly partly responsible for Mappin & Webb’s fame.
Soon afterward in 1911, the company began their now longstanding tradition of producing commemorative pieces for hallmarks within the English Royal Family, this tradition is still continued to this day, and with Mappin and Webb having their master craftsman being deigned the position of Crown Jeweller – their association with the British Royal family has been firmly cemented into the public psyche.