Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Edward Thomason (Toy Maker and Silversmith)

#ArtisanProfiles

Edward Thomason attributed to Sir William Beechey.
Date unknown but probably late 1700s.
After an apprenticeship with Matthew Boulton, Edward Thomason began trading in 1793, utilising his father's buckle manufactory that had been left to him on Church Street. Thomason's apprenticeship with Boulton had showed him what ambition could achieve and whetted his appetite for science and mechanics. His 'mind became restless to produce some novelty or invention worthy to be patented'.* He began making gilt and plated buttons, but soon branched into jewellery, coins, tokens and medals, continually expanding the business, so that by 1796 sixty to seventy rooms were utilised for his manufactures, as well as having twelve show rooms. The use of show rooms was an excellent tactic as it included Thomason's manufactory as part of the Birmingham tour where the town's articles could be examined and the the ingenuity of their maker wondered at.

Throughout this time Thomason was also working to achieve his ambitions of invention, and after several years of being generally unsuccessful he finally patented a new design for a corkscrew in 1802 which helped to make his name, as well as a very decent fortune. His ingenuity was aided by unflinching self promotion; he would send examples of new articles to whomever he thought best to promote himself and his wares, whether that be scientific medals to the most eminent scientists if the day, or commemorative medals to the Prince Regent himself. He also made the town and himself known to all Europe by sending religious medals to all of Europe's monarchs, and over the nineteenth century he received many honours and gifts from these; honours that he actively sought, and sometimes asked for.* He included illustrations of many of these gifts in his memoirs, as well as a portrait of himself wearing his honours (see below), and the many letters of praise received from esteemed persons. He was obviously very proud of his achievements, but one commentator (who called Thomason 'pleasant, chatty, spirited, yet egotistical') gave vanity as one of the main drivers in Thomason's memoirs.**
Thomason with his honours, from his Memoirs.

Thomason was knighted in 1832, the first Brummie to be so. Shortly afterwards his friend, James Bisset, sent him the following verse:

‘”TO MY VERY OLD AND HIGHLY-ESTEEMED FRIEND, SIR EDWARD THOMASON, KNT.”
“DEAR SIR,
            I congratulate you on the honor
So lately conferr'd by our Monarch (the donor).
Who, judging most wisely where merit is due,
The badge of true Knighthood bestowed upon you;
And feeling as all other amateurs felt,
Rewards you with title, gilt spurs, sword, and belt!
    I remember the time (fifty years since, when boys)
Your name at SOHO 'gan to make a great noise;
And when to the 'toy shop of Europe' you came,
Each season exalted a THOMASON'S fame.
As an Artist whose works o'er the globe have been whirl'd,
Your renown has extended all over the world!
No wonder HIS MAJESTY then thought it right
(High-talented Edward) to make you a KNIGHT!
                       I am Sir, Yours very faithfully,
                                        JAMES BISSET,
                                                 A Septuagenarian."'

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