An arts and crafts silver Venus centrepiece by Millicent Mercer

Price range: £5,000-10,000

For sale is this rare symbolist or art nouveau silver centrepiece by Millicent (sometimes Milicent) Ethel Mercer.

The dish was made (or better put marked) by the fairly commercial firm of William Gallimore & Sons of Sheffield. Notably however, in the manner of Ramsden and Carr, it is marked in latin “Milicent Mercer me fecit [made me]”. Dated December 1909.

So who is Millicent Mercer? She was born in 1874 to a wealthy family living in Gainsbrough, Lincolnshire. Millicent had an older sister Eleanor who is well documented as attending the Sheffield School of Art, working for Mappin (later Mappin and Webb) and winning awards that were publicised in the Studio. Eleanor sadly died in South Africa in 1900. Her younger sister Millicent is less well documented but a newspaper article from 1896 probably reveals all. She was enrolled with Ramsden and Carr at the Sheffield School of Art, and looking at the awards, they were the three star pupils of their respective art classes. See images for the extract from the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent, September 24th, 1896.

Millicent largely disappears from view after 1896 but we have tantalising glimpses of her history. In the 1901 census she is boarding  in Chelsea at 139 Fulham Road and her occupation is given as “Designer & Chaser”  In the 1911 census she appears living with her brother at 64c Fulham Park Gardens, an address in Fulham. Mistakenly listed as Millicent Esther, her occupation is “silver chaser”. In 1919 she is still living in Fulham as a lodger at 33 Stokenchurch Street. Her proximity to the workshops of Ramsden and Carr (initially Chelsea, then Fulham from c 1905), that Ramsden and Carr were her Sheffield class mates, and the style of this dish, makes it almost certain in my mind that Millicent was employed by that famous partnership.

Quite why in  or before 1909 Millicent returned to Sheffield is unclear, but it would seem she did, quite likely working with or for William Gallimore and Sons, whose sponsor mark is on the dish. Presumably Millicent returned to London soon after. I cannot find her in the 1921 census or thereafter.

Now to the piece itself, which I find remarkable. It is a hand raised and chased dish with a cast classical central figure of a long haired woman looking wistfully to the sky. There is marine theme to the dish. The woman seems to sit amongst waves, the outer rim of the dish depicts four entwined scallops. To my mind the dish is undoubtedly a representation of the Roman Goddess Venus (Greek goddess Aphrodite), the scallops drawn no doubt from Botticelli’s Venus. The seated pose of Venus, whilst unfamiliar, in fact exists in Roman, Renaissance and 19th century sculpture.

What I say next comes with a large health warning as my knowledge of both the classics and art history is modest. It seems to me though that by so overtly placing Venus looking to the sky, Millicent has cast Venus to depict two things. Firstly a servitude to a greater monotheist god. And secondly, in looking thoughtfully to that god, her head heavily resting in her hand, Mercer has captured a wistful sadness to the figure. Is Venus, the god of love, in fact lamenting a lost love, presumably Eleanor, Millicent’s sister? I cannot say that is what Mercer meant to imply, but that is certainly what is conveyed to me.

This dish is exceptionally rare in the genre of British silver. It is similar in influence and style to the Lilian Simpson casket in the Collection’s archive at this link.

Provenance is to Bonhams auction 13th June 2012 lot 166 at this link, where they erroneously described the figure as a mermaid..

Maker:  Millicent Mercer (assayed for William Gallimore & Sons)

Designer:  Millicent Mercer

Date: 1909

Marks: WGS, Sheffield, r, “Milicent Mercer me fecit Dec MCMIX”

Material: Silver

Condition: Excellent

Size: Diameter 25.75 cm

Weight: 21.7 oz, 616 grams

SKU: A1537 Category:

Additional information


Art nouveau, Arts and crafts