article # 85



by Sara L. Russell
(click on photos to enlarge image)


Once upon a time, back in 1911 in fact, when the days of Art Nouveau were lazily drifting towards the more upbeat days of Art Deco... The brilliant silversmiths Levi and Salaman made a beautiful matching hairbrush and mirror set, in their workshops in Birmingham.
Both hairbrush and mirror were made in a wonderful design, almost magical in fact. At the top of both hairbrush and mirror there was an elaborate cartouche in extravagant 3-dimensional relief, all surrounded with furled and unfurled scrolls. Fanciful faces, reminiscent of the legendary "Green Man" or "Foliate Man", as he is known by pagans, were hidden everywhere in the pattern.
There were two at the top; profile faces, like half-moons, smiling, either side of a bird, which could be a raven or a crow.
Typically of Levi and Salaman, it was not just any old view of a bird, but he was seen from the back, looking sideways. He was perched on top of the cartouche, in a sweeping pattern of leaves. Lower down, the cartouche blossoms into burgeoning leaf shapes, with large poppy-like buds, standing upright like elaborate lamps.
At the bottom of the cartouche frame is a well-defined foliate manís face seen from the front, with big swags of draped material coming out of his mouth. These form the cheekbones of a large, cleverly-hidden face which was like the face of the whole personality of the brush. It is the concealed face of a cat, smiling gently with its eyes closed. Above the closed eyes, two flowers formed the inner parts of its pointed ears. Another flower, pointing down, formed the catís nose.
Two foliate men comprised the two curves of the catís smiling mouth.
Lower down again, on the handle, a baby bird stood, with its wings arched up... then at the bottom of the handle - another foliate man's face - this was truly a work of art from top to bottom.
There are five Foliate Man faces plus one hidden cat's face.
If you look closely at the picture you will see that a bird is inside the cat's open (smiling) mouth.
This hairbrush was first owned by a wealthy or middle-class lady with the initials E.E.H., which can clearly be seen from the monogram in the cartouche on the brush.

It might have stood for Emily Elkington-Hanley, or Elizabeth Edith Harrington, or some such affluent-sounding name. She obviously loved the brush very much because she took good care of it.
It is in excellent condition with only a small crack at the top of the handle. The matching mirror did not fare so well (which is why I did not carry on bidding after my first bid for the mirror, but concentrated on the brush).
The mirror has dents around the frame and the glass appears to have been replaced. Someone else on eBay bid only for the mirror? perhaps they prefer mirrors to hairbrushes.
I was lucky enough to get the brush, for an amazingly low price, considering the age and workmanship in this wonderful antique, and the fact that it is in such good condition for its age.
I recently wrote to the person I bought this from, who co-manages an eBay shop called Booksinn - the shop that sold the brush to me.
They are based in Israel. I asked how they came to buy such a wonderful brush and take it all the way to Israel with them.
A nice lady called Sylvia answered. This is what she told me in her reply message:
"Dear Sara,
Thank you so much for your interesting letter. Firstly, from your feedback we realized how truly happy you were with your purchase and believe me that gave us a tremendous amount of pleasure.
As to your enquiry, all I can tell you about this beautiful brush is the following.
My family and I lived in England. My mother was born in London and I was born outside London. My late Father came to England in 1933 as a very young man. he studied, married and many years later went into the antique business in a very small way. One of his favourite "hunting grounds was a small shop in Richmond, owned by a very famous British Actor whose name has slipped my memory for the moment.
He was the star of a very popular comedy TV series where he played the part of a barrister who always referred to his wife as the one who must be obeyed"! ..
Anyway, to return to "our brush". I think that my father bought that brush and matching mirror in that shop in Richmond.
My husband and I moved to Israel in 1972, together with our children, and my parents followed one year later. My Father passed away in 1988 and left me with his collection of which I only started to dispose in 2006.
Well, I wish you luck in all your future dealings and would ask if it would be possible for us to receive a copy of the article.
With Many thanks,
Sylvia (BooksInn)"

So here you have the history of a very well-travelled antique hairbrush.
First it belonged to a Mrs. E.E.H., then it belonged to Sylviaís father, as part of his antique collection for a while. Then Sylvia and her husband moved to Israel in 1972 and the Levi and Salaman hairbrush followed a year later in 1973, when her father went to Israel to live near her.
Now, in 2007, the hairbrush has flown all the way back to England from Israel to be part of my collection, and the matching mirror has goneÖ elsewhere, to another eBay buyer.
But that is another story...

Picture of brush courtesy of and images.

Phineas Harris Levi, from Exeter, moved to Birmingham in 1866. He worked for a relative at first, for four years. Being ambitious and energetic, he founded the original company Levi & Salaman in 1870; entering into business with Joseph Wolff Salaman. They opened a modest workshop in Northampton Street and remained there for a few years, making gilt jewellery, which was in high demand at the time.

Soon there was so much demand that they had to move to a larger, grander premises in Upper Hockley Street.
It was there that they began a very successful venture in manufacturing silver jewellery, which soon overshadowed the popularity of gilt costume jewellery.
During his early years at Hockley Street, Mr. Levi came into contact with a small company in Barr Street, which manufactured flatware in a white metal called Potosi Silver. This type of silver had such a whiteness of colour, that it strongly resembled real silver. Levi very quickly purchased it, seeing a great business opportunity for his business if it was worked with properly.

The growth of this business was on such a scale that, in 1885, an impressive works of several large buildings was completed in Newhall street, known as Potosi Works. This establishment had worldwide connections.
It also introduced a range of silver plated items of every description.

Marks were entered on behalf of Levi & Salaman at the London Assay Office by P.H. Levi, from their 143 Newhall St. premises in Birmingham, also for their London offices at 123 & 124 Newgate Street, EC.
They are listed there in 1897 as manufacturing silversmiths. Soon after this, the London showrooms moved to 2 Hamsell Street, EC.

After P.H. Levi died in 1910, Levi & Salaman was converted to a limited liability company as Levi & Salaman Ltd. The first directors were Joseph Wolff Salaman, Clive Joseph Levi and Lewis Henry Salaman, along with Edith Jacob, who was the secretary. In 1912 their trade names were: Levi & Salaman, "Levisalm", The Potosi Silver Co. and "Potosi".

From the 1st of January 1921, Levi & Salaman and The Potosi Silver Company, their subsidiary, were amalgamated with Barker Brothers (Silversmiths) Ltd. This new business continued under the style of Barker Brothers (Silversmiths) Ltd. at a premises at Constitution Hill, Birmingham, and on the first floor at 292 High Holborn, London EC1. At this time J.W. Salaman retired and C.J. Levi joined the board of Barker Brothers (Silversmiths) Ltd, as joint managing director with Frank E. Barker.

Over the course of their illustrious career, Levi and Salaman and the Potosi Silver Co made many beautiful items and achieved a great deal of success. They are noted to have exhibited at the Barcelona Exhibition of 1888, when their agents were Polli y Guglielmi, of Calle Barbara in Barcelona.

They also exhibited at the Jewellers' Exhibition of 1913, where they showed an impressive selection of souvenir spoons, enamelled manicure sets and some fine electroplated Georgian style objects including a Peter Pan child's set and "Rosen" pattern spoons.

The firms made a similar display at the Jewellers' Exhibition of 1914, including silver-mounted tortoiseshell work, enamelled goods, toilet articles and all kinds of novelties in solid silver and electroplate. The following year, at the British Industries Fair, they exhibited again, and one item in particular was of great historical interest. It was a momento of the war - one of their "Potosi" silver spoons, which had saved the life of a soldier by deflecting a bullet which otherwise would have wounded him. This caught the interest to H.M. the Queen, when she attended the exhibition on its opening day.

History in brief:
* 1870-1910 - known as Levi & Salaman
* 1910-1920 - were Levi & Salaman Ltd. & proprietors of the Potosi Silver Co. from 1828)
* 1921 - Amalgamated with Barker Brothers (Silversmiths) Ltd. on 1st of January 1921

Sara L. Russell - 2007 -
former editor / founder of Poetry Life & Times, Sussex, England.