The Birmingham Assay Office is turning a new leaf as it begins the process of packing up and moving to a much bigger base in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter from Newhall Street.
Birmingham’s historical institution has begun its process of packing and storing away the priceless collections they house in preparation to move to their new purpose-built home in the Jewellery Quarter this summer.
Founded in 1773, by Matthew Boulton, the Assay Office was erected to provide a hallmarking facility to the ever-increasing silver trade.
Newhall Street has been the base of the building for over a century however, after selling the Grade II listed building to a developer it will now move a modern centre in Icknield Street thus providing those much need facilities and extra space to host exhibitions, recite the story of the Quarter and open up research facilities.
The former building has since been extended and added to open several occasions throughout its life and is presently a maze of working areas – leading to the necessity of the move.
The mark of the Assay Office, an anchor, has been struck on tens of millions of articles which was done in the first 15 years of the 21st century and after holding the last of its open days at Newhall Street at the end of March, the hallmarking body will now start labelling and storing its collection of nationally-important silverware ready for its transportation.
The new site for the Assay Office will be adjacent to the Kettleworks building, that of which is actually being redeveloped into apartments, and is set to be storeys tall, thus offering suitable facilities for roughly 120 members of staff and customers along with allowing wider public access to the resource, which the Assay Office has to offer with regards to the private library and silver collection.
Penny Parkes, spokeswoman, explained how the Assay Office would now be able to make its valuable collections more visible and accessible at the brand new building.
She said: “At the moment there are hundreds and hundreds of beautiful pieces hidden away in drawers so we’ll be able to change our exhibitions which, at the moment, are very static.
“So, if it’s an important anniversary of, let’s say, the Caddy Spoon Society, or a similar group, we’re going to be able hold specific displays.”
She continued on to say, “When the act was passed through Parliament and we were able to have Assay Offices in Birmingham and Sheffield, the two parties went to a pub on The Strand called the Crown and Anchor where they discussed the need for hallmarks.
“Legend has it a coin was tossed and Birmingham lost, so Sheffield got the crown and we got the Anchor. Subsequently, Sheffield has changed its crown to a rose but we have kept our anchor since 1773.”
At the heart of the Assay Office principles is integrity and independence. ‘Guardians’ oversee it and a board of non-executive directors, named wardens, who are connected to the jewellery trade although are entirely independent.
Along with highlighting the area’s jewellery-making history, the Birmingham Assay Office is determined to shine a light on the numerous craftsmen and women that are working in the trade today.
“We’ve got things in our collection made for Liberty of London, a fantastic company that still champions craftsmanship. We have, in the Quarter, a wonderful company called LJ Millington using machines over 100 years old which are just as good today as they were when they were built, creating short runs of 20-or-so pieces for people Liberty.
“They also create items for well-known British names. They’re not interested in the high-profile public branding, just creating brilliant things here in Birmingham.”