This unusual, electro plated Britannia metal Hip Flask was made by James Dixon & Son to the patent design of Joseph Hall. Both Hall and Dixon were from Sheffield and the latter's business was large enough to cope with the demand for Hall's design. Hall described his patent in his application of 1881 thus: In carrying into effect my invention, the orifice of the neck of the flask or bottle is made at the side instead of at the end, and a partition or division is made across the neck of the flask or bottle where the neck is joined to the body, and the partition or division is pierced at the under side to allow the liquid in the flask to flow into the neck. Given that you could easily drink from the flask without the risk of air bubbles or spillage, a cup was not needed. Joseph Hall patented his flask in several countries and although it appears that it was a very popular design at the time, relatively few of these flask are seen now. Dixon's trumpet logo is stamped to the bottom of the flask with pseudo hallmarks noting JD&S and EPBM below. To the back of the head of the flask is stamped Halls Patent surrounded by W. Thornhill & Co. Thornhill were high end retailers located at 144 New Bond Street. A very interesting design of flask. Circa 1885.
James Dixon & Sons started life as a company under the name Dixon & Smith in 1806. James went into partnership with Thomas Smith as manufactures of Britannia metal and Sheffield plate goods, with premises at 16 Silver Street, Sheffield.
The company expanded steadily throughout the 19th century. They started in 1806 with a workforce of 8 Manufactures, 31 Workmen and 19 Boys making shoe buckles and spoons. In 1820 they moved to larger premises a mile away at Cornish Place (which was to remain their factory) and the employees had risen to 12 Manufactures, 99 Workmen and 91 Boys. A year later Smith retired and James' son William joined the firm. The new partnership was formalised in 1825 with the name changing to James Dixon & Son. James's son in law, William Fawcett joined in 1828 and in 1836, with the inclusion of a second son also called James, the name changed again to James Dixon & Sons. Around this time they began to use nickel silver for cutlery and from 1848 produced items in electroplate. The mark EPNS found on a number of their items refers to Electro Plated Nickel Silver. They are often described as also working in pewter but the company wrote to The Connoisseur in 1918 to dispel the myth that they ever did.
The famous trumpet and banner trademark was granted in 1879 although it had been in use a few years before this. Several future generations joined the management of the company (sometimes first working on the shop floor to get a good understanding of the business) and the name remained unchanged until they became a limited company in 1920. By 1906 Dixon's had a workforce of 900, had continually expanded the premises at Cornish Place to become a very large factory (with approximately 1000 windows) and produced a wide range of metal goods with pattern running into the 100s. They had also taken over a number of other businesses along the way to help them expand including Nicholson, Ashforth & Cutts in 1820 to enable them to produce silver and plated goods and they increased their ability to manufacture shooting equipment by taking over the business of a Mr Batty around 1840. Many of the items that we are interested in, such as hip flasks and travel goods, are considered stock items for Field Sports but were of course also used by the military and travellers. This area of the market became an important part of Dixon's business and it is probably easier now to find a hip flask with Dixon's name on it than without. They were given various awards at the Great Exhibition of 1851 for silver and Britannia metal goods.
In the 1880s they worked with the innovative designer Christopher Dresser as part of his Art Furnishers' Alliance and their ability to produce items not only in silver but also EPNS, which made good design more accessible to a large audience, perhaps appealed to him. Aside from their Sheffield base, Dixon's also had showrooms at 12 St. Andrew's Street, Holborn Circus, London. James Dixon had been travelling in America to expand his business as early as 1838 and they are known to have done business in Rio de Janeiro in 1841, Hong Kong and Manila in 1846, Holland and Germany in 1858 and Australia and New Zealand in 1896. The firm seemed to regularly send salesmen overseas. With this in mind it is perhaps no surprise that they also went on to open showrooms further afield in Lausanne, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Melbourne and Sydney. When company founder James Dixon, retired in 1842 he said that 'when he started the business he was determined that nothing should go out of the factory bearing his name that would disgrace him and that this was the keynote to reputation of the firm'. Perhaps the company's adherence to this policy is the reason for their long standing success.
The business were eventually absorbed into British Silverware Production in 1984.