After having been offered a single silver candlestick for loan to use at a talk I was making for the Chippenham Rotary Club, I then discovered a distinguishing mark on the candlestick above the initials of the maker, which led me to believe that this was a rare and special Georgian silver candlestick. I knew that this could be a very special find indeed.
Deciding to do some research, I contacted the Wiltshire family, who owned the candlestick and discovered that they had a pair and not just the one they had loaned me! I started to research the candlesticks and found that the pair the Wiltshire family owned are two of possibly only six made by Thomas Heming, the Principal Goldsmith to King George III. Heming was the first working goldsmith to hold this post since the early 17th century and the majority of pieces were made in his own workshop.
The design is elaborate and sophisticated full of symbolism and reflects the special skill and artistry of Thomas Heming, who was King George III’s Principal Goldsmith between 1760 and 1782. My research led me to believe that these candlesticks were made in around 1770.
The son of a Midlands merchant, Thomas Heming was a quite exceptional silversmith. He was originally apprenticed to the Huguenot silversmith Peter Archambo, who helped introduce the Rococo style in England. The superb quality and refined delicacy of many of the items made by Heming reflect the influence of Peter Archambo. In 1745, Thomas Heming registered his first mark and began to trade the following year from his shop in Bond Street, London.
Encouraged by his principal patron, Lord Bute, Heming was appointed Principal Goldsmith to the King in 1760. A crown can clearly be seen above his maker’s mark denoting his premier position. He maintained this position until 1782, when he was ousted after an investigation into his apparently excessive charges.
Heming had been responsible for supplying ornate regalia and plate required for the Coronation service ordered by King George III in 1761, the largest royal order of silver realised for decades.
Some of his surviving pieces, in the Royal Collection, clearly show the French influence of Peter Archambo, but Thomas Heming’s ‘masterpiece’ is quite probably the Wine Cistern made in 1770 for Speaker Brownlow (Belton House in Lincolnshire). Amongst other outstanding works of his are a silver-gilt toilet service made for Queen Caroline of Denmark in 1766 and a number of tableware pieces still part of the Royal Collection. Many of these pieces exhibit the delicacy of taste and refinement of execution, undoubtedly inherited from Heming’s master, Peter Archambo.
After Heming’s retirement, the business passed down to his son, George and then on to the following family generation after that, receiving further royal appointments and commissions. It is unknown exactly when Thomas Heming died, but was sometime between 1795 and 1801.