Arthur Lasenby Liberty (1843 – 1917) opened his eponymous shop on London’s Regent Street in 1875 and stocked it with a range of imported household goods. He was devoted to the vision of an Eastern Bazaar and determined to change the current look of homeware and fashion. As such his carefully curated collection of ornaments, fabric and objets d’art proved irresistible to a society intoxicated by Japan and the East.
Within ten years Arthur Liberty was working with designers on his own range of fabrics and clothing and by the end of the century was commissioning work from some of the finest British avant-garde designers across a wide range of goods. The most famous of these is Archibald Knox whose name has become synonymous with the ‘Liberty Style’ that he was instrumental in creating. He designed across a range of disciplines including carpets, fabric and garden ornaments but it is his silverware and jewellery designs that he is best remembered for.
He was hugely prolific and his design motifs spanned the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Nouveau, Celtic Revival and Modernism to create a style that is uniquely and recognisably his. In 1899 Liberty & Co exhibited their first small collection of silverware and jewellery, designed by Knox and bearing the company’s own assay mark. This was the beginning of the ‘Cymric’ collection, a range of pieces made by machine in sterling silver and hand finished, which was followed three years later by ‘Tudric’ a collection made in pewter to make it more widely affordable. The pieces were typically decorated with enamel, in particular peacock-like shades of blues and greens and a range of stylised flora and fauna patterns, Celtic knots and Art Nouveau whiplash lines.
There were of course many other designers who worked for Liberty & Co. including Jessie M King, Mary Watts, Oliver Baker and Fleetwood Varley. Artists such as these ensured that the firm remained at the forefront of artistic style and design during the first two decades of the 20th Century. Oscar Wilde referred to the shop as “the chosen resort of the artistic shopper” and today the jewellery and silverware produced by Liberty & Co. during this period are highly sought after and valued.