Willoughby-Blake Collection of Silver and Decorative Arts
Collection Dates: 1711/1712-ca. 1940s (bulk 1776-1790)
Size: 554 items
Access: Item-level descriptions are available in a searchable database. Please note that an appointment is required to view this material.
Contact: Costumes and Personal Effects staff
One of the finest private collections of silver by English silversmith Hester Bateman was collected by Ruth Starr Blake (1880-1969), a direct descendent of James Harper Starr, Secretary of the Treasury for the Republic of Texas in 1839. Mrs. Blake purchased much of the silver between 1950 and 1955. After her death, her niece Clara Pope Willoughby (1902-1985) and Clara's husband Ray W. Willoughby (1900-1980) established the Willoughby-Blake Room in the Ransom Center in her memory. Much of the Willoughby-Blake Collection of Silver and Decorative Arts is on display in this room, along with other objects collected by members of the Willoughby, Blake, and Starr families.
Mrs. Blake focused her collecting efforts on Hester Bateman (1709-1794), a Londoner who learned her trade in the workshop of her husband John Bateman, a gold chain maker. After John Bateman's death in 1760, Hester inherited his tools and registered her punch-mark with the guild for silversmiths and jewelers at Goldsmith's Hall. In the coming decades she expanded the business into a thriving silversmithing establishment, assisted by her sons Peter and Jonathan, Jonathan's wife Ann, their son William, and an apprentice, John Linney. Her simple, elegant designs were in demand with the new middle class, and by the time Hester retired in 1790 at the age of 81, the Bateman workshop had produced, in the estimate of Bateman scholar David Shure, more than 11,000 pieces. Then as now, her work was appreciated for its superior quality, tasteful embellishment, and graceful forms.
The Willoughby-Blake collection contains more than 400 pieces wrought in silver under the mark of Hester Bateman between 1776 and 1790, primarily domestic tableware such as tea pots, pitchers, coffee pots, salt cellars, salvers, spoons, forks, and serving utensils such as ladles and tongs. The largest Bateman piece is a coffee urn which, at 23 inches tall, is uncommon because Bateman did not often make such sizable pieces. Other unusual pieces are a fox head stirrup cup, filled with wine or other spirit and handed to a rider before a hunt for last-minute courage, and a baby rattle made of coral with silver bells and a whistle. Mrs. Blake also collected a few pieces by Peter, Ann, and William Bateman (Hester's son Peter, daughter-in-law Ann, and grandson William), and by the American craftsman Paul Revere. The earliest piece of silver in the collection is a small bowl with the mark of William Twell, an English silversmith active in the early eighteenth century.
The silver, which comprises three-fourths of the collection, is complemented by furniture, paintings, engravings, and other objects such as a Kerman rug dating from the 1940s, a Steuben pitcher manufactured in 1939, and a Chinese ku (ritual vessel).
Also on display in the Willoughby-Blake Room are Texian Campaigne china, ca. 1840, Steuben and Waterford crystal, Fulton and Jesuit tea services, a collection of Wedgwood silhouettes of kings, and dozens of Battersea boxes, ca. 1756. These materials, though not described in the costumes and personal effects database, are available for viewing by appointment.