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John Gilliam & Gilliam Bros 1849 – 1894

By the time John Gilliam and his two sons took over running the business of the Silver Mouse Trap. 160 years had passed for the shop. Where the business had been the first jeweller in London, now it was one of many. With others focusing on different sub-sets of trade. Some became bankers, some focused-on jewellery, and some weapons. Any research into the people of the time has them listed as Goldsmith, Silver smiths and jewellers. They sold many items to the public and did not limit themselves to one field.


  • John Gilliam
  • Father: John Gilliam Snr
  • Mother: Sarah Gilliam
  • Born: 1827, sere sussex
  • Lived/employment: Goldsmith
  • Married: Anne Arundel
  • Children: George and Harry
  • Died: July 1867

Because the shop was based in Lincolns Inn fields, it was next door to the Court house, the Inn of court and the early University of London. This informed the type of customer bought into the shop. While London jewellery was becoming more and more accessible. Gilliam still had very tight dealing with the upper class of London.

Jewellery of the period: Victorian

London was changing and jewellery tastes changed and became more accessible. This was during the reign of Queen Victoria and the growing industrial revolution in the UK. This meant more and more people could afford jewellery and sought to emulate the young queen who often wore jewels. At the time snakes we are a popular motif, as well as the ouroboros, the snake biting its own tail as a sign of eternal love.

At this time diamonds we are becoming cheaper and the jewellery industry became more mainstream. Much jewellery from the time is set in 15ct gold and often has a strong nature theme. Flowers, fauna, bird, insects, and animals feature heavily.

During his time John Gilliam was called to the Old Bailey as witness in a criminal case and we can see through his testimony is support of MRS. White, as an honest trader, what kind of business they did.

I am a jeweller, of 36, Serle Street, Lincoln’s Inn—I know Mrs. White—on 26th October I bought this bracelet (produced) of her for 100l.—a month afterwards I sold it to a private customer on credit for 160l., and since these proceedings I have got it back—on 29th October I bought a diamond brooch of Mrs. White for 200l. and sold it to Messrs. Field for 250l. on 22nd November—that is the brooch produced by Mr. Field.

Gilliam inherited a strong business but by a focus on the new field of printing, they made tens of price lists, which still survive today, one can see they focused on hiring silver plate and services to the wealthy. They also produced printed catalogues of antiques in stock, as early as 1907, which paints a vivid picture of the stock the shop carried at the time.

The squirrel mug:

This very unusual lidded mug is most likely to have been a special commission. Nothing like it has been published and we are aware of no other like it. It is of solid silver and it retains the original, fitted retailer’s silk-velvet box.

The mug is of solid silver. It is of baluster form. It sits on a flared ring foot. The sides and the domed lid are chased with typically Kutch flower and leaf scrollwork.

A large roundel to one side is decorated with the figure of a woman in Indian dress holding a basket feeding roosters and chicks from a basket of grain.

The domed lid is surmounted by a caparisoned elephant finial.

But this mug’s most striking element is its handle: it is in the form of a European squirrel with the bushiest and most extravagant of tails. The squirrel hangs on to the side of the vessel providing the most whimsical of touches.

Unusually, the base is engraved with a tiger amid foliage.  This is not maker’s mark but simply more decoration. It covers the entire base. This is the first time that we have encountered an Indian colonial mug, cup or vase with the underside of the base engraved in this manner.

The fitted box is in a stable condition but with some loss to the velvet covering. The interior carries the mark for ‘John Gilliam, Goldsmith and Silversmith, Serle Street, Lincoln’s Inn’. This 19th century maker and retailer was based in London, Lincoln’s Inn being in the heart of the old legal district in the City of London. The mug was made in India but retailed in London by this goldsmith and silversmith.

The mug is in excellent condition.

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