Thursday, July 16, 2009

Selling what all the world desires

Birmingham City Council are making a big thing of the bicentennial of Matthew Boulton's death in 1809. He was, if not the father of the Industrial Revolution, then at least one of its 'movers and shakers' and was responsible for putting Birmingham on the map as the centre of manufacturing it remains (more or less...) to this day.

One of the main events marking his death is a big exhibition called 'Selling what all the world desires' at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, exploring the man, his business skills, his family life and the exquisite metalwork produced at his factory in Handsworth. Dave and I went to the exhibition last Saturday and thoroughly enjoyed it. For starters it was free (always a bonus!) and it was also a good size, taking up three whole galleries in the Museum. (Not like one recent Chinese art exhibition, much hyped around the city, which turned out to be housed in eight glass cases....) We spent a whole hour wandering around, reading old inventories and accounts, looking at scale models of the steam engines he used in his factory, and gazing at the silverware and ormulu vases, candlesticks and clocks he produced. Some of these were a little too ornate (positively frilly) for my taste but you could see how expensive they were. Indeed, one entry in an inventory listed an item as costing a whopping 42 shillings. That probably represented a year's wages for most people!

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