24 February 2014

Birmingham in Miniature: Richards's Toy-Shop

Plate from Bisset's Directory, 1808. An advert for Richards's toy-shop.







































Welcome to Richards's toy-shop, run by Theophilus Richards; a toy at the turn of the century being a luxury, adornment item. In 1767 toy-makers were described:
"these Artists are divided into several branches, as the Gold and Silver Toy Makers, who make Trinkets, Seals, Tweezer and Toothpick cases, Smelling Bottles, Snuff Boxes, and Filigree Work, such as Toilets, Tea Chests, Ink Stands &c &c. The Tortoiseshell Toy Maker, makes a beautiful variety of the above and other Articles; as does the Steel; who makes Cork Screws, Buckles, Draw and other Boxes: Snuffers, Watches, Stay Hooks, Sugar knippers &c. and almost all these are likewise made in various metals."
The advert above is tantalising; it is a mixture of graphic depiction, with urns and motifs, and reality, with the shop front and open door captured. Inside, as was prevalent in adverts of this time, can be seen refined middle class customers perusing Richards's wares. Richards sold the jewellery, cutlery and silverware that he most likely made himself, but considering that he termed his shop 'Birmingham in Miniature', it seems likely that he also sold items from many other manufacturers so that the premises became almost like a museum of Birmingham wares. This is asserted by the fact his shop was promoted as part of a tour of Birmingham's manufacturing 'curiosities', and that it was included in Admiral Nelson's tour of Birmingham in 1802, and was also visited in 1805 by HRH Prince William of Gloucester. Richards would have sold luxury consumer goods and novelties made by the innovative Birmingham manufacturers to adorn the home and person of the rising middle classes. A small example can be seen in one of the shop's bills:

From Birmingham Archive: A Bill for Richards's

As well as making items, it can be seen, from the bill below, that shops also made repairs; something we struggle to find today in our throw-away society.
The advert at the top left is for a commemorative coin/medal of George III, these coins were highly popular and widely collected at the time; Richards, as had many others, had obviously tapped into this lucrative market. The patent bronzed corkscrew is likely to be a Thomason corkscrew, made locally by another manufacturer- Edward Thomason.

The Rev. W. Fenwick
                                              To Theo. Richards & Son
1821
April 17th   Repairing Candlestick                                               2. 0.
Oct 13       1 Patent Bronzed Corkscrew                                     7. 0.
Dec 29       taking to pieces old urn & repairing it
                  with new cock mouth & new chimney                         6. 0.
1822
Jan 17        Rep Corkscrew                                                          1. 0.
[....??...] 
                                         For Theo. Richards & Son
                                        Thos. Day [Thomas Day]
Northfield

The Richards family were silversmiths, cutlers and gun makers, and the gun making branch of their business still trades today on Birmingham's Pritchett Street (see their website here). It is also due to Theophilus Richards that we have a copy of the 1731 map of Birmingham, as reprints were made of an original copy that was in his possession in 1789. Theophilus Richards (born 1748) was nephew to William Westley, the man who drew up the map. Theophilus's father, Thomas, had been making guns in Birmingham since at least the 1740s, but Theophilus himself branched into the toy trade.

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