Archibald Knox (1864-1933) was one of the leading designers of the Arts & Crafts Movement. He is perhaps best remembered for the designs he produced for the iconic London department store Liberty & Co., including those made for their popular Tudric pewter range, which remain sought-after at auction today.
Knox was born on the Isle of Man to Scottish parents, and his Celtic heritage exerted a powerful influence on the young designer. Not only did he introduce Celtic motifs into his designs, but he also became a published scholar of Manx Celtic crosses and standing stones and collected Manx artefacts.
Knox balanced a career teaching art and design with his work as a commercial designer. Having begun his career as both student and teacher at the Douglas School of Art, he moved to London in 1896 or 1897 to study under and work for leading designer Christopher Dresser. Following a period teaching and designing in London, Knox moved back to the Isle of Man at the turn of the century, where he produced hundreds of designs for Liberty, before returning to teaching.
These designs spanned across multiple mediums, from metalware to terracotta, jewellery to graphic design, all of which were then manufactured by specialist factories. None of the pieces are signed by Knox, as Liberty & Co. had a strict policy of anonymity for their designers. Knox’s best-known designs were those he produced for their Cymric (precious metal) and Tudric (pewter) ranges.
Pewter is a malleable alloy, composed largely of tin with antimony, bismuth, copper and silver. Relatively cheap, it was known as ‘poor man’s silver’, and was very popular at the turn of the century amongst those looking for affordable yet modern pieces for their homes. Liberty’s Tudric range was respected as good quality pewter, with a higher than average proportion of silver. It can be found either polished or left with a dull matte patina.
Knox’s designs for the Tudric range bridged the major art movements of the early 20th century. The Arts & Crafts pieces brought in motifs from the Art Nouveau, Celtic Revival and Modernist movements. He combined a strong sense of form and proportion with re-interpreted historic motifs to create stylish pieces that encapsulate the spirit of the era.
At auction, pewter by Archibald Knox comes at a range of price points, with something to suit every pocket. You can pick up a small piece of Knox-designed Liberty & Co. Tudric pewter for under £50. Larger, or more elaborately decorated pieces can be found for a couple of hundred pounds, whilst pieces incorporating colourful enamel decoration will set you back a little more. The pinnacle of Knox’s pewter designs, and the most expensive to buy at auction, are clocks, which can sell for £2,000-3,000.