18th century England, an age when gender roles were very nearly set in stone, held few options for women beyond marriage and motherhood. While men provided financial support for their families, women were expected to maintain family and home; it was rare to see a woman break out of this prescribed gender role towards something great. Yet, for the headstrong young widow Hester Bateman, greatness was within reach.
Born in London in 1708 to a poor family, Bateman grew up under these strong gender delineations, eventually marrying silversmith John Bateman. Batemen adhered to societal standards by maintaining her family, yet she also keenly observed the techniques and tools of her husband’s silversmith workshop. While John’s silver craftsmanship did not experience much commercial success, Bateman still benefited from observing her husband at work.
After the passing of her husband in 1760, Batemen inherited the silversmith business and developed it from a single outworker’s hut into a successful silversmith business. With crafting skills already under her retinue, Batemen was keenly aware of the intricacies that went into creating pieces. She registered her own makers mark, an austere HB, and began styling her pieces in elegant, restrained styles that stood in contrast to the extravagant, over-embellished fashion of the period. Choosing austere, simple shapes, Batemen’s pieces emphasized sophisticated and timeless classical taste.
This was a bold, yet important, stylistic choice. Bateman’s restrained silverwares attracted a solid middle-class market with its simply, yet elegant design, earning her remarkable success in her own lifetime and for success generations to come. Heralded today not only as one the queen of English silver, but also as a keen businesswoman in her own right, Bateman is truly an inspiration as well as an artisan.
This incredible tankard is just one of the many elegant pieces designed by Bateman. As a perfect example of her talent as a silversmith, this piece features a flaring cylindrical with a domed cover. Different from any other touches at the time, the handle terminated in a magnificent heart-shape – a touch of femininity and a show of her revolutionary style. Importantly, this bears the hallmark of Batemen and a datemark for London, 1784. Similarly, this silver inkwell is a principal example of Batemen’s talent. As a crucial part of any 18th century person’s desk, this item features cobalt-blue glass inserts and Bateman’s signature delicate beaded borders.
Like all of Bateman’s silver, this silver jug perfect represents the graceful proportions for which her pieces were known. The sweeping lower portion of the jug charmingly terminates into a slender upper portion. A curved wooden handle and an engraved crest complete the piece. Like always, Bateman’s famed beaded borders are a testament to her name and talent. Enormously emblematic of Bateman’s unique talent is this exceptional cup and cover. In a classical urn shape, this piece capture everything for which Bateman is praised: slender proportions, beaded edges, and a carefully engraved crest that all work to echo themes of true grace and elegance.
The combination of her dominant personality, business savvy and gift as a skilled artisan has made her one of the most famed of all the Georgian silversmiths, and the most important and celebrated female silversmith of all time.