Antique Silver Dealers – Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co. archive

It’s amazing what turns up at auction sometimes – during ‘Lockdown’ I seem to have ‘’ constantly running in the background whilst I’m writing on my PC; last week, at Keys Fine Art in Aylsham, Norfolk, a rather dishevelled old album caught my eye. Lot 217, described as ‘Vintage Album containing various photographs of hallmarked silver and other artworks’ sounded rather intriguing, and I recognised the type of photographs and that it was probably a silver dealer’s album – so I had to buy it of course; it was a bargain I think, just £12 plus commissions and postage, so cost about £24 all told (and thank you to Keys Fine Art Auctions for packaging the lot so well and posting it so promptly!).


‘Vintage Album’, Keys Fine Art Auctions, Norfolk.

The album arrived in the post this week. I guess the album itself dates from c.1900 – it has an old title on the original red leather spine ‘Photographs & Records of Cups and Presentation Plate’ – although it has been recovered in plain brown paper at some stage, and as you can see it is in a very distressed condition.

The album turned out to be a fascinating record of the well-known London-based silversmiths and antique silver dealers ‘Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co Ltd‘.  In some business letters, dating from the 1920s and which have been pasted into the album, Attenborough described themselves as ‘Goldsmiths, Diamond Merchants and Watchmakers’; they traded from 142-144 Oxford Street, London, from c.1905 until the late 1950s, although like many 20th century antique silver dealers (such as Harman & Lambert, or Birch & Gaydon), Attenborough can trace their genealogy into the 18th century – their business letterhead states that they were established in 1796. The Attenborough business was acquired by the silversmith James Charles Jay in 1887 and by 1904 had become Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co Ltd – the business seems to have closed sometime in the 1960s? They were listed as ‘antique silver dealers’ in the London Trade Directories in the 1920s-1950s. As silversmiths, Attenborough also sold antique silver and indeed the album exemplifies the continued tradition within silversmithing of buying and selling second-hand and antique silver. The famous firm of S.J. Phillips, for example, began as silversmiths and jewellers in the 19th century and many other antique silver dealers can trace their origins as silversmiths.

The contents of the album are mainly photographs of modern silver made by Attenborough in the 1920s to the 1950s, but there are also many photos of 18th and 19th century antique silver, including this amazing George II silver basket – in the style of Paul de Lamerie (1688-1751).

George II Silver Basket; Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co Ltd album, photograph c.1930s?

Some of the most interesting photographs in the album illustrate pieces of antique silver that have been remounted as presentation pieces by Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co in the 1920s and 1930s.  This silver punch bowl dating from 1870 has been remounted for presentation in 1924.  There is a long description of the object in the album; ‘Silver Punch Bowl, weighing 144 ounces, standing 14 inches high, and measuring 18 inches across. It is entirely wrought and chased by hand, and bears the Victorian Hall mark for the year 1870. The body of the bowl is decorated with repousse work in high relief of figures of horsemen and footmen in armour, symbolising battle scenes from early English history. The pedestal foot is ornamented with a series of wreathed designs of oak leaves and acorns; the whole forming a remarkable and unique specimen of the silversmith’s art. It was originally on [sic] the collection of the late Viscount Chaplin, who was a great patron of the turf, and a thorough sportsman, also a political associate of the Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain. The inscription engraved on the foot is as follows:- Monday, 14th July, 1924 ‘To have the honour to meet H.R.H. The Prince of Wales’ Souvenir of ‘At Home’ at the Jamaica Court. BRITISH EMPIRE EXHIBITION, WEMBLEY.’

The album also contains dozens of photographs of commissions for presentation cups and plate that the firm created in the early and mid 20th century. Here, for example, is ‘The Spectaclemakers Cup’, made to commemorate the tercentenary of the granting of the Royal Charter by Charles I in 1629; ‘made in May 1930 for Sir Osborn Holmden’ – who was made Master of the Worshipful Company of Spectaclemakers in 1928.

The wide range of commissions for silver that the firm undertook is illustrated by these two further examples – a large silver presentation salver, made as a gift to William Lawrence Stephenson Esq. on his retirement as chairman of F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. in 1948.

And the winner’s trophy for the Miss World Competition in 1955, which that year was held in London.

That year, the fifth edition of the now highly contentious and outdated competition, Miss Venezuela, Susanna Duijm, won the competition; here she is, holding the trophy made by Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co Ltd.

As well as the photographs of modern and antique silver, the album also contains a small number of fascinating watercolour designs for cups and medals, including these beautiful watercolours for designs for a medal for the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club, dating from the 1930s.  The Club was established in 1888 and is still going.

The Attenborough album is an amazing document, one that clearly demonstrates how the practices of antique dealing, and those of contemporary design, have been in continuous flux.  The album will be making its way to the Special Collections at the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds in due course!


16 Comments to “Antique Silver Dealers – Jay, Richard Attenborough & Co. archive”

  1. THANKS FOR A INTERESTING READ,I have just purchased a silver pocket watch stand for a goliath pocket watch fantastic quality sold by KAY The watch is still working and displays the company name but I am sure it is mass produced but the case is a presentation piece with a cartouche engraved HWH and is super quality well done on your find.

  2. Good morning. I came across this post on the internet while researching family history. I would be really interested to see this album and find out if it was for sale. I have a personal interest as James and Robert Jay were my great great grandfather and his brother. The business then passed to my fathers grandmother before it was eventually sold. I have very little information on the family from this time and it would be wonderful to see this.

    • Hi Di,
      apologies for the delayed reply – I’m so sorry but the album is not for sale – it will, in due course, be going to the Brotherton Library Special Collections at the University of Leeds and so will eventually be available for public consultation if that helps? I’d be very interested to hear about your research into your family history though, if you had time? do email me – – best wishes Mark

  3. James Jay was an ancestor of mine. I have several pieces of jewellery made by Jay, Richard Attenborough and visited Tottenham Court Road several times as a child and teenager. It actually closed I think around 1965. My father was on the board, although he was not a jeweller by profession.

  4. Sirs – I would very interesting to view this album as James Jay was a relation of mine – he started the jewellers in a pub in Saffham by installing a pawnbrokers at one end of the bar. I have a photograph of the shop in Oxford Street and overwork relating to the sale of the shares. I look forward to hearing from you


  5. Hi Mark. Thanks for your response. I think perhaps I should explain that we are all sisters! I had been looking for more information and shared your post when I came across it. It’s a shame that we cannot purchase the book but perhaps you could let us know when it is sent to the Brotherton library. My husband knows it well as he studied at Leeds! I was going to attach an old photo of the shop but cannot attach to this mail. Is there another email address I could forward it to so you can see it?. Regards. Di

  6. Hi, nothing to do with antiques sorry but I am trying to find out about the history of the shop. My father’s family lived in one of the flats above Jay Attenborough in Oxford Street from the 1940s and my grandfather worked in the shop as a valuer. One Sunday, probably early 1960s when the shop was closed he took my brother and I down to the basement where there were cages with bars and told us they had lions in there on Wednesday afternoons. I was up those stairs like a shot! He also said one lady used to pawn her knickers on a Monday and go back to collect them on a Friday when she had been paid. I have happy memories as a child ringing the side doorbell in Adam and Eve Court and waiting for my grandmother to come down and open the big door. Sadly the shop closed in the mid 1960s when the directors were taken to court and charged with evasion of purchase tax by using gems from old pieces, making new pieces of jewellery and describing them as second hand.
    Yours sincerely,

    • Hello Karen,
      many thanks for your message and for the fascinating memories of Jay Attenborough shop – I hope someone is able to tell you more about the history of the shop in Oxford Street. Very best wishes

  7. This is an interesting article I believe I’m the Great Grand Daughter of James and have always been brought up knowing ssome things however didn’t know the whole story, there is one thing that confuses me I was always told that when my parents married they lived in a flat above the business for a while as apparently my Father worked for them however as far as we know Mum and Dad married in 1960 – does this mean the business stopped trading in 1958 or are the dates I’ve been given incorrect – both my parents have passed away unfortunately

    • Hello Jayne,
      many thanks for your message – I’m so pleased to hear that the blog post on Jay, Richard Attenborough is getting such interest; and thank you too for the personal updates on the business. I’m not exactly sure when the business closed, but the last entry we have in the trade directory is 1958, but the business could have continued into the 1960s? We’ve not had a chance to consult any formal business trading records (at Guildhall for example), but they should reveal the date for the formal end of Jay, Richard Attenborough – if you do have any corroborated information on the history of the business into the 1960s I would be really interested to hear!
      Very best wishes

  8. I’m trying to find out more about a large silver tray which was given as a wedding present to my grandparents about 1903
    Thank you in anticipation.

    • Hi Fiona,
      many thanks for your comment – I’m afraid we only have a few photographs relating to the Jay, Richard Attenborough firm….but I do hope you discover something about your tray. Best wishes

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