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Silver & Goldsmiths

    The art world has been largely unaware of Ball Hughes work with silver and gold, other than his design of medallions and his one-time work as an engraver for the U.S. Mint.
    Ball Hughes work in silver began when he experimented with wax portraits as a boy. When only 14, he made a bas-relief copy of a picture representing the wisdom of Solomon out of wax candle-ends which was afterward cast in silver.
Ball Hughes wife Eliza records in the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes, p. 1:
"Robert Ball Hughes the Sculptor, was an Englishman: born1 at 59 Long Acre London in 1804.  He was the 2nd son of John Hallett Hughes. a Carriage Builder. This excellent man being hom [?] refined, and artistic his tastes were, decided that when he had got through School Life . he would place him with some man of Talent. and finishing that he had copied in Bas-relief a picture representing the wisdom of Solomon.  He placed him at once with the then celebrated Sculptor – Edward Hodges Bailey. (who had been a pupil of  Flaxman’s.)  In Mr. Bailey’s Studio he remain’d Seven years.  Modelling from the Antique and from life.  And we find him successfully competing for all the prizes awarded by the Royal Academy."
    Robert Balls Hughes apprenticed with the famous sculptor, Edward Hodges Baily (1788-1867) for 7 years starting in 1818. Baily was the principle modeler for Rundell and Bridge, the Royal goldsmiths according to Royal Goldsmiths: The Art of Rundell & Bridge 1797-1893 by Christopher Hartop, Cambridge: John Adamson Publishing Consultants, 2005.
    Only one article has been found that mentions Ball Hughes early work for Rundell & Bridge, the Royal goldsmiths, in London in the 1820's. John Neal recalled:
“When I first knew him [Ball Hughes], he was modeling small figures of men and animals, and grouping them, as they never had been grouped before, since the days of Benvenuto Cellini, for Rundell and Bridge, the great London goldsmiths.”
From Hughes the Sculptor by John Neal (1793-1876) from American
Phrenological Journal Vol. 49.--No. 8, New York: March 1869, p. 98. See the Biography page for the complete article by Neal and the Group of Shepard Boy and Dog page for an example of Ball Hughes early work modeling small figures of men and animals.
    In 1837, Ball Hughes modeled the McKeon Presentation Vase in New York. This Monumental American Silver Covered Presentation Vase might never have been attributed to Ball Hughes if it wasn't for an article describing it in the Saturday February 10, 1838 issue of The New York Evening Post.
    In late 1839, Robert Ball Hughes was hired as an engraver by the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia to modify the obverse of the Christian Gobrecht (1785-1844) design of the Seated Liberty.  This was to make it strike better and possibly more modest according to some reports.
    Ball Hughes added drapery at Liberty's left elbow, reduced the size of the rock, and placed Liberty's shield in an upright position.  It was used for over 50 years, from 1840-1891, on all denominations of silver coins except the half dollar which remained closer to the original Gobrecht design according to Tom Lamarre.  This included the half dime (until 1874), dime, quarter, and dollar (until 1874).
    In the early 1840's, Ball Hughes also may have modified the designs of other coins according to John Dannreuther. Note that Eliza Ball Hughes makes no mention of Ball Hughes work for the U.S. Mint in the Sketch of the Life of Robert Ball Hughes. See the 1840 Seated Liberty page for more information.
    In 1849, Ball Hughes designed a bronze medallion of John Trumbull for the American Art-Union.
    In the 1850's, Ball Hughes may have been involved the Roswell Gleason, Boston pewterer. According to independent scholar, Catherine Lanford Joy, who is doing research into the life and work of Roswell Gleason who ran a significant Britannia and silverplate
manufactory on Washington Street during the time that Ball Hughes lived down the street: 
“There is a Gleason family story that Ball Hughes did a model of the Gleason family dog which was then used for finials on Gleason's silverplated wares.  It is true that dog finials appear on Gleason teawares and butter dishes.”
    See Paintings by Robert Ball Hughes for more information about Gleason and the Presentation Portrait of a Dog to Pewterer Roswell Gleason (1799-1877) of Dorchester Massachusetts by Robert Ball Hughes, 1858.
    See the Roswell Gleason and Made in Dorchester: Roswell Gleason, Pewter and Silverplate Manufacturer articles by the Dorchester Atheneum for more information about Ball Hughes neighbor.
    We may never know the full extent of Ball Hughes work in silver and gold since most works are not signed by the designer.
last update 3/27/2013
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2013
Subpages (1): The McKeon Vase