A British Surprise
Among the many small precious metal treasures brought in for the friendly “Show-and-Tell” session during the April 2019 New York Silver Society, Inc., dinner was a silver gilt surprise egg opening to reveal a golden ant scaling a gemstone matrix marked by British silversmith Stuart L. Devlin (1931-2018). Devlin, who was born in Australia, in Geelong, Victoria, studied goldsmithing and silversmithing at Royal Melbourne Technical College and then won traveling scholarships that allowed him to study in London at the Royal College of Art from 1958-60. Awarded a Harkness Fellowship, he chose to study silversmithing and sculpture at Columbia University, New York (1960-62). Devlin returned to Australia in 1963, where he entered and won a competition to design Australia’s first decimal coinage. The new coins were introduced in 1966. Subsequently, he designed the medals for Australia’s new honors system in 1975 and many of their defense force and civilian medals, as well as coins for more than 30 other countries.
For the Australian coins, he supervised the cutting of the dies at the Royal Mint in London and in 1965, using his prize money, he bought a small house in Clerkenwell, London, with a basement workshop where he started a goldsmithing and silversmithing business. This was the first of seven workshops where he employed and trained many highly skilled craftsmen. Devlin adapted and devised techniques to produce a wide variety of surface textures and filigree forms, on simple body shapes, and beginning in 1967, became successful with the concept of limited editions, particularly of surprise Easter eggs and Christmas boxes. He was granted a royal warrant of appointment as Goldsmith and Jeweler to HM the Queen in 1982 and in 1996-97 served as prime warden of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. He was also integral to the foundation of the Goldsmiths’ Centre, which opened in 2012, aimed at addressing shortcomings in the creative education and training of goldsmiths. In 1989 Devlin closed his London showroom, and then moved his studio to Littlehampton, West Sussex, where he designed the precious metal coins for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Coin Program, and then the 1999 Millennium Dish for The Goldsmiths’ Company. For more about Devlin, see John Andrew and Derek Styles, Designer British Silver from studios established 1930-1985 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antiques Collectors’ Club Ltd, 2015), pp. 152-173.
The egg’s owner purchased it from a dealer at New York City’s 25th Street weekend flea market a couple of years ago. The dealer knew it was British from the hallmarks, but did not identify the maker. Devlin’s limited edition eggs appear in secondary markets in both the U.S. and the U.K.