20th Century Canadian Silversmiths
Henry Birks & Sons
Birks was by far the largest and most influential silverware manufacturer in Canada during the 20th century. Henry Birks & Company was established in Montreal in 1879 as a retail jeweller. In 1893 Henry Birks’ three sons joined the business and the name was changed to Henry Birks & Sons. In 1897 Birks bought out Hendery & Leslie, their largest supplier of silverware, and began manufacturing their own products. Over the next 50 years, Birks expanded by buying up established jewellers across the country. They also took over their rivals in manufacturing until they had a virtual monopoly on the production and sale of sterling silverware in Canada.
Birks’ earliest production included hollowware and flatware in a few English patterns such as Old English and Fiddle. In 1907 Birks acquired the Gorham Company of Canada and with it the exclusive rights to manufacture and sell several of Gorham’s patterns in Canada such as Chantilly and Pompadour. Birks acquired several more designs from Gorham and other manufacturers later in the century and also designed a few of their own patterns like Tudor and Laurentian. Birks manufactured their own flatware and some of their hollowware in their factory in Montreal up until the early 1990s when the factory was closed and production was moved offshore. In the early part of the century, the factory employed nearly 300 people. Some of their hollowware was purchased from manufacturers in the UK and the US and sold under the Birks label.
Birks sterling marks varied throughout their history which helps us to date their pieces. The earliest Birks silver mark (1879-1897) was a retailer’s stamp of H.B. & Co. added to the pseudo marks of Hendery & Leslie (at this point Hendery & Leslie manufactured Birks silver). Their second mark was introduced when Birks bought out Hendery & Leslie in 1897 and became manufacturers themselves. It included Birks along with the same pseudo marks previously used by Hendery and Leslie: a lion rampant, a sovereign’s head and a date letter.
From 1903 until approximately 1930 Birks sterling hollowware and flatware was marked either with Birks Sterling in the font shown below with serifs or with Birks in a rectangular outline followed by Sterling. During this period pieces are occasionally found with pseudo marks lion, beaver and letter S.
In 1925 Birks received permission from the London assay office to mark their sterling silver with a date letter that corresponded to the London assay office date letter. From this time most of their hollowware was marked with Birks Sterling (no serifs) and a set of pseudo hallmarks that included a sheaf of wheat (Trademarked by Birks), a lion passant, and a date letter that corresponded to the London date letter for the year of production. Their flatware was typically marked simply with Birks Sterling (no serifs), sometimes followed with the date letter and very occasionally with the full set of pseudo marks. In the late 30s, the sheaf-of-wheat mark was replaced by the Canadian National Mark (a Lion’s head surrounded by a C).
Birks late 20th century pieces were marked with Birks Sterling and a lion rampant.
PW Ellis & Co.
PW Ellis & Co. was established in Toronto in 1879 by Philip W Ellis and Matthew Ellis (both nephews of Toronto silversmith James E Ellis). They produced a wide range of silver hollowware and flatware. Their designs were heavily influenced by styles from England and they manufactured several different flatware patterns including Lancaster Rose, Chippendale, Old English, Old English Thread (Saxon) and Louis XV. Ellis was taken over by Birks in 1928.
The Ellis mark is strikingly similar to Gorham’s, an anchor on its side, an E surrounded by a maple leaf and a lion passant.
Established in Toronto in 1891 by Thomas and Frank Roden and continued by their heirs Alfred and Dudley. Roden Brothers produced a wide range of silver hollowware and flatware in traditional English styles. They offered several different flatware patterns including Stratford, Queens, and Louis XV. Goldsmiths Stock Company of Canada were their exclusive selling agents from 1900 to 1922, they were taken over by Birks in 1953.
Roden’s mark included the word Sterling, followed by 925, an R and a lion passant.
Ryrie Brothers was a retail jeweller established in Toronto in 1897 by James Ryrie who was joined by his brother Harry in 1882. In 1905 the company became a subsidiary of Birks but continued to sell hollowware and flatware under the name Ryrie until 1914 and Ryrie-Birks until 1924 after which they were amalgamated with Birks. Ryrie Brothers were retailers and apparently did not have their own facilities for manufacturing silverware. Most of their products were of high quality and many appear to have been manufactured in the United States.
Carl Poul Petersen
According to his family history, Carl Poul Petersen was apprenticed at George Jensen in Denmark before emigrating to Canada in 1929. He worked intermittently at Henry Birks and Sons in Montreal until 1944 but he set up a studio to do commission work in the late thirties. Petersen opened his permanent studio in 1944 and registered his company, C.P. Petersen & Sons, in 1946.
Unlike his rivals at Birks, Petersen’s production included a lot of hand work and his designs were inspired by the naturalistic forms of Danish silver particularly those designs by Georg Jensen and Johan Rhode. He produced eleven flatware patterns, an extensive range of hollowware, silver and gold jewellery and a line of Judaica. Petersen’s work is by far the most collectible of all the 20th-century Canadian Silversmiths.
C.P. Petersen & Sons was in business until 1979 but the majority of their domestic silver was produced in the late forties and fifties. Petersen is perhaps most famous for his work on behalf of the National Hockey League. He was commissioned to reproduce the Stanley Cup in 1962 and also to make the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy and the William Masterton Memorial Trophy.
Petersen’s silver was marked with his trademark PP underlined three times, Sterling, and usually also with Petersen, the words Hand Made and the Canadian National Mark. Browse our collection of Poul Petersen silver here.
A little-know silversmith from Richmond Hill Ontario, Douglas Boyd was a founding member of the Metal Arts Guild in 1946. He produced relatively small amounts of handmade hollowware in mid-century styles, typically marked only with his signature and date. He died in 1972.
William Maurice Carmichael
Although he cannot be properly considered one of the major Canadian silversmiths, we have a soft spot for William Maurice Carmichael as he was the only Canadian silversmith of note from British Columbia. While the majority of Carmichael’s production was high-quality silver plate he did make a number of sterling silver articles for his general stock and for special commissions. Carmichael was trained as an engineer and started in business in Victoria in 1920 after returning from the First World War. In 1924 George Bennett Sr., a local silversmith who had trained in Britain joined the firm.
The business grew quickly and offered a wide range of goods that became tremendously popular as wedding and christening gifts. Carmichael produced goods using a combination of hand and machine work and made numerous special commissions including The Thunderbird & Whale Bowl presented to King George V by the Government of British Columbia. Carmichael’s designs were commonly inspired by English silver but also included local elements such as Dogwood flowers and first nations motifs. The shop remained in business until shortly before Carmichael’s death in 1954.
Carmichael’s earliest mark was W.M.C in a rectangle, and his later mark was an M surrounded by a C in a shield. His sterling pieces include Sterling and the Canadian National Mark (after 1934).
Born in Birmingham, England in 1889, Emerson Houghton received silversmith training until 1911 when he immigrated to Canada. Houghton settled in Toronto and began working at Roden Bros. Houghton’s Silverware and Plating Ltd. was established in Toronto in 1920 and specialized in ecclesiastical pieces in sterling, silver plate and brass. Houghton passed away in Toronto in 1965 but his business operated until the late 1980s.
The National Mark
In 1934 the Government of Canada instituted a national mark for items made of precious metal that are wholly manufactured in Canada. Canadian silversmiths can only stamp this mark on their pieces in conjunction with a registered trademark. The mark was a lion’s head inside a letter C as shown below left. It was changed to a maple leaf inside a letter C in 1978, shown below right.