Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Cooper Brothers and Sons: 1893

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Messrs. Cooper Brothers, Don Plate Works, Sheffield

The firm, (Cooper Brothers and Sons) which has a high reputation in the trade, was founded in 1866 by the present principals, Messrs. Thomas and John William Cooper. The premises first occupied were ill-adapted to the special requirements of the business, but in spite of this the trade increased, and eventually, in consequence of the steady progress made, it became necessary to find greater accommodation elsewhere, and in March, 1885, Messrs. Cooper entered into the possession of the large building — now known as the Don Plate Works — in Arundel Street, Sheffield, which they purchased. While in the old building the business greatly developed, but with the removal to Arundel Street a new era began, and with their improved facilities the firm found it possible to cope with the rapidly increasing demands upon their resources. The Don Plate Works, which are in the centre of the town, are equipped with every modern improvement, and are admirably adapted to the purposes to which they are devoted.

The business of the firm may be broadly divided into two departments — the manufacture of electroplated forks, spoons, etc., and that of electro-plated "hollow-ware," both in German silver and solid silver.

The firm make their own German silver, in fact they were the first in Sheffield to do so. They have a special department in which the copper, nickel, and spelter are weighed in their right proportions and passed on to the casting shop, where the metal is cast into ingots, the process being one of the sights of the establishment, the metal when poured into the moulds assuming every possible shade of glowing colour, the brilliant hues lighting up every dark corner of the shop.

From the casting shop the ingots go to the rolling mills, from which they are returned in rough, unshapely strips, of varying degrees of size and thickness, according to the purposes for which they are intended.

The rough pieces of metal then enter the stamping shop (a portion of which is shown in one of our illustrations), where powerful machines, fitted with the necessary tools, give them a semblance of the form they are eventually to bear. One machine produces the outline of a spoon, another that of a fork, and so on. Each piece of metal is placed on the bed by hand, and, quick as thought, the tool descends, and the embryo fork or spoon is the result. The impact is so strong as to cause the metal to become quite hot.

The waste metal falls underneath the machine, from whence it is collected and returned to the casting shop to be re-made into ingots. Other machines bevel the handles of the forks or spoons, and stamp the "pip " at the point where the bowl of the spoon joins the handle, these operations having the effect of greatly stiffening, and so strengthening the articles, in addition to adding to their appearance. In another part of the room are powerful machines which, to use a technicality, "bowl" the spoons.

From the stamping rooms these rough stamped forms are conveyed to the filing room, where highly-skilled workmen file and set them to the desired shapes. This work is rapidly and deftly done, and our fork or spoon becomes more shapely, and is then ready for the "buffing" room.

In the "buffing" room, where, as our illustration shows, the work is chiefly performed by women and girls by means of rapidly-revolving wheels and the use of sand, and in some cases lime, the roughness which the articles possessed on leaving the filing shop is got rid of, and after being carefully and thoroughly cleaned they are then ready for electroplating.

The various articles are then conveyed to the baths, and after remaining in these for a sufficient length of time they emerge with a white silver coating.

They are then passed to the burnishers and polishers, and are ready for use. In the hollow-ware department, in which much the same processes are gone through, the variety of the goods manufactured is astonishing. Metal teapots, tankards, drinking cups, salad bowls, biscuit boxes, butter coolers, cruet stands, and almost every table requisite, are made in every conceivable shape and pattern—some plain and serviceable, others highly decorated and richly engraved. Most of the designs are highly artistic, and it is a pleasure to watch a pattern growing under the skilled engraver's hand, or to see the delicate and beautiful results accomplished by the worker in repousse. The engraver also finds employment for his art on much of the best silver-plated cutlery, many of the dessert sets, fish carvers, and similar articles receiving embellishment while passing through his hands.

Some idea of the extent of the firm's business may be gathered from a visit to the stockrooms, where in forks and spoons alone there may be found some hundreds of patterns, the wonder being how it is possible to devise so many different designs for such simple everyday articles, a still greater wonder being where a market is obtained for the thousands upon thousands manufactured annually by Messrs. Cooper. A proportionately large trade is also done in the hollow-ware department. In addition to their extensive home trade, the firm export large quantities of their productions to the Continent of Europe and the Colonies. The remarkable success which has attended the operations of the firm is doubtless attributable to the facts that they have ever striven to produce the very best, and have not been content with anything falling short of that standard, so that whether the article be an ordinary teaspoon or an elaborately engraved tea service the purchaser may rely upon their being the best procurable in their class.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • An extract from the ‘Monthly Circular’ published by Follows and Bate of Gorton, Manchester in 1893