Hester Bateman (1704-1794) is one of the best known English silversmiths whose work has touched the hearts of generations of collectors. One of the main reasons may surprise you if you are not aware that Hester is usually a female name. Yes - Hester Bateman was a woman and the mere fact that she was able to work at all in a field which at that time was completely dominated by men is an achievement in itself.
Hester Bateman Sauceboat, London 1779. TGS07
Born in 1704, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Needham, she married a goldsmith named John Bateman in 1732 with whom she had six children. John Bateman died in 1760 leaving all his household goods and his tools to his wife, so Hester went into business under her own name, registering her maker’s mark ( a simple “HB” script) at Goldsmith’s Hall, London on April 16th 1761.
With her sons, Peter (1740-1825) and Jonathan (1747-1791) she continued to run the family business until she retired in 1790 at the age of 86. Hester had a great deal of business acumen and achieved considerable success within her own lifetime, partly by using techniques and machines which were at the forefront of technology at that time and by using thin sheet silver that enabled her to keep costs down and compete with companies producing Sheffield plate. The family specialised in household silver in a neo-classical style and their work often features bright-cut engraving, piercing and beading round the edges. Hester Bateman’s attention to detail and the quality of her work have earned her a place amongst the finest English silversmiths.
Pair of Hester Bateman Silver Table Spoons, London 1790 - PLCE4871.
Hester Bateman's "HB" maker's mark seen on one of the table spoons pictured above. The rest of the hallmark shows (from left): the Lion Passant for sterling silver; the Leopard's Head wearing a crown for London (the crown was deleted from the London mark after 1820); the letter P for 1790; and the Sovereign's Head (George III) showing that duty had been paid on the item (used between 1784 and 1890).
Hester died in 1794 at the advanced age of 90. She was the first and most famous silversmith in a dynasty of four generations. When she retired, her sons Jonathan and Peter registered their own mark - the letters PB over IB – but, since Jonathan died in 1791, this mark was used for only six months and silverware bearing it is extremely rare today. After Jonathan’s death, his widow Ann Bateman continued working with her brother-in-law, Peter. On his uncle’s retirement, Jonathan and Ann’s son William (1774-1850) took over the business in 1815 and eventually passed it on to his own son, also named William. He was to be the last silversmith in the family: the business finally closed in 1840.
The rare maker's mark of Hester Bateman's sons Jonathan and Peter on the base of a silver pillbox. Showing the letters PB over IB, this mark was only used for six months due to Jonathan's death. Silverware bearing these marks are sought-after collector's pieces.