Tuesday 31 March 2020

Williams Tonks & Sons connection to Campaign Furniture.

Williams Tonks & Sons connection to Campaign Furniture.

Our father Christopher Clarke was born in Birmingham to a long line of medical for-bearers however, part of the family tree relates to Henry Tonks. You can follow the link for more in depth information but he was a surgeon whose family owned a brass foundry in the city and was also famous for teaching art at Slade School of Fine Art with Rex Whistler being one of many of his notable pupils.

      The foundry Henry Tonks' family owned were called William Tonks & Sons and though maybe not as well known as Coalbrookedale and Archibald Kenrick were one of the largest and most prolific metalware making companies in Great Britain during the 19th century.  If you are interested in marked metalware do look at Vin Calcutts excellent  The Old Copper Website  and you can read up more on the Tonks Foundry. there as well as identifying other marked metalware.

As you will know, if you are familiar with our website, with Birmingham being the workshop of the world in the 18th and 19th century here and across the country there were a vast amount of metalware manufacturers producing a vast array of goods that could be used for travelling or by makers of campaign furniture.
        Firstly, items in brass and iron such as beds and chairs such as the wonderful folding iron bed  and the iron duoro chair in our last catalogue. As well, as this we have had showers and items such as washstands and shelves which brass components.
        Secondly, there will be the component parts of chests, tables, bookcases etc that have iron or brass fittings. Flush handles, brass strapwork, escutcheons, brass ferules, thumb bolts and threaded fittings to brass hooks and hinges etc.

      So how do William Tonks & Sons fit into picture of what was being produced that could be useful to the campaign furniture cabinet maker or traveller?  Unlike specialist makers such as Winfield or Hoskings who made specific finished items ready to be retailed Tonks made a huge amount of different items that other manufacturers could use in their designs as well as items for use in a more architectural context such as door knockers, window latches  and door plates.
      We have seen W T & S items such as table clips, handles and hinges so it would be reasonable to assume that they also made campaign handles and brass strapwork for campaign chests. Strapwork would not be marked and most campaign or military handles (if they are marked) are marked on the back so you would not know unless you removed them. Interestingly, our father on a visit to the USA over 40 years ago spotted Tonks hinges on an American late 18th bureau bookcase. Tonks exported world wide so pieces of their metalwork will appear on colonial furniture possibly misleading the uninitiated  into thinking the piece is English.
       The box below was certainly English and had hinges by William Tonks.

    We have handled a few other pieces which could be classified as campaign or travel. One of the most iconic pieces of campaign equipage would be the Brighton BunTonks made a nice example of these which we know because they marked the outside of the dishes. Generally, when we see them of this size they tend to have pressed dishes and light weight sconces. The Tonks examples which would predate these have case dishes and sconces and though small feel more substantial.

           Another piece of brass ware we usually have in stock would be the Walkers Patent hooks. First patented in 1864 they continued to be made into the 20th century and can still be found in William Tonks catalogues of this date. On the earlier examples which come in several sizes they will be stamped Walkers patent 1864 to the front and those made by Tonks will have the WT & S mark to the back alongside the sun motif they used during the period.

At present we have a stylish pair of candelabra marked WT & S which are designed to be screwed on to a wooden base. It is possible that they could have been for use on board ship where falling candlesticks could be particularly dangerous.

William Tonks Candelabra

William Tonks & Sons were an important company who produced an extensive collection of items cast in brass and also in cast iron many of which turn up for sale on a regular basis. They have been somewhat overlooked as a company worthy of research and we can only hope that this small article may be the beginnings of rectifying that situation. As mentioned the company continue into the 20th century when in 1970 they merged with Newman Brothers which was also later bought up by Ingersoll-Rand.  Interestingly, the Newman Brothers and Tonks legacy survives in the form of the Coffin Works  museum which featured in the first BBC series Restoration in 2003. 

As more items come to light this page will be updated with further information.

Simon Clarke

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