Boulton and Fothergill silver
This thesis is about the silver business of Matthew Boulton and John Fothergill at their Soho Manufactory near Birmingham. Their partnership lasted from 1762 until 1782. A rounded discussion of the topic is attempted. Within the contexts of industry elsewhere and Soho's other activities, successive chapters cover the early development, marketing, production, design, and later decline of the partners' silver. Silver plate was prestigious and, untypically for Boulton, he concentrated on sales to the public rather than trade customers. To attract orders he made modest charges. This was viable where mainly machinery was used to make plate, even though sales were not high, since the expense of machinery was substantially covered by the larger sales of non-silver items. However, where Boulton relied to a greater degree upon hand methods, he lacked technical means to compensate for low profit-margins. Moreover, inefficiency and the firm's lack of capital which led to substantial bankers' interest charges on payment for bullion, particularly when customers paid late, caused losses. These problems applied particularly to silver plate and were mainly responsible for the decision to reduce production drastically; however, the manufacture of a large range of small items remained relatively consistent. The thesis includes appendices. Some contain new information about annual totals for the following aspects of the business: the volume of assay silver; each type of article; pieces sold on commission; and sterling silver supplies. Other appendices provide details about the partners' silversmiths and extracts from a Soho inventory. This thesis involves a more detailed use of sources than previous studies of the topic. Apart from the silver itself (which is selectively illustrated), the Matthew Boulton Papers and statistics derived from The Birmingham Assay office provide the main sources. Manuscripts covering silver production elsewhere provide contextual material for understanding the partners' silver business.