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Hester Bateman, Woman Silversmith

Up to fifty years ago, England was a man's world. Women had few rights that husbands and male relatives could not invade. Only a Queen, like Elizabeth I, occupying the throne in her own right, was free of this masculine domination. Otherwise, law and custom gave men control of all property and rendered them superior beings to be obeyed without question by their women folk.

Such was the law. In actual practice, however, from the fifteenth century on, England had her share of forceful women who conducted business in their own names on an equal footing with men. No where was this more evident than with silversmiths. Those doing business in London had to be members of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and record their maker's marks at Goldsmith's Hall. This record of touch marks with the names of the craftsmen who had entered them dates back to 1697.

During the century and a half that followed, there were sixty-three women members of the Goldsmiths Company, each with her own distinctive touch mark which was always part of the series called hallmarks. These identify a piece of London silver, even to the year it was made. They are: crowned leopard's head, signifying "made in London," the date-letter, year of making; lion passant, fineness of metal; sovereign's head, luxury tax paid; and inaividual craftsman's touch, usually one or two initials.

Among the women silversmiths, Hester Bateman is pre-eminent, possibly because she raised three sons and a daughter who all followed the craft or because her silver was as nicely executed as any by her male competitors. At any rate, pieces of Bateman silver have long been owned in America and are of partiular interest to collectors now.

There is no record of where she was born or under whom she served her apprenticeship. From 1774 to about 1825, the Bateman shop was located on Bunhill Road. Here, in 1790, she was joined in the craft by her sons, Peter, Jonathan, and William, and by her daughter, Ann. Hester's first mark, entered in 1774, was the script letters "HB" in an scalloped oval. In 1790, Peter and Jonathan entered their mark, a square with initials "PB'' above "LB." In 1795, another square mark, "PB" above "AB," was entered for Peter and Ann. Finally, in 1800, the last Bateman mark, an oblong with initials "PB, AB and WB," one over the other. This was used by Peter, Ann, and William when they formed their silversmithing partnership. Their mother, by that time had either died or retired, but for a quarter of a century, together or separately, the three continued as active London silversmiths.

Although the silver designs used by the Bateman family varied somewhat during a span of fifty years, most of it was of classic lines and often ornamented with bright-cut engraving. Sugar bowl, and teapots in 1817 were being decorated with bright-cut engraving.

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