James Dixon & Sons

A Brief History of the Family and Company

The firm of James Dixon and Sons has made holloware and flatware for 200 years. The firm started in a small way but rose to be one of the major manufacturers, not only in Sheffield, but in the country and for most of this period, manufacturing was on the Cornish Place site

Dixon and Son, c1823-c1825
William Frederick Dixon (1802-1871), the eldest son of James, joined the firm when he was 21 years old and Thomas Smith withdrew. In 1824 they moved to Cornish Place, a large site, which enabled them to expand and develop the workshops, casting shops, offices and warehouses. In 1830, the firm began making silver and plated goods at Cornish Place by acquiring the firm Nicholson, Ashforth and Cutts. This side of the business was run by the newly-appointed manager - Mr William Fawcett, son-in-law of James Dixon. Later, the business of Mr Batty, of Tenter street in Sheffield was also acquired, adding the manufacture of powder flasks to firm's output.

 

Dixon and Son, c1823-c1825
William Frederick Dixon (1802-1871), the eldest son of James, joined the firm when he was 21 years old and Thomas Smith withdrew. In 1824 they moved to Cornish Place, a large site, which enabled them to expand and develop the workshops, casting shops, offices and warehouses. In 1830, the firm began making silver and plated goods at Cornish Place by acquiring the firm Nicholson, Ashforth and Cutts. This side of the business was run by the newly-appointed manager - Mr William Fawcett, son-in-law of James Dixon. Later, the business of Mr Batty, of Tenter street in Sheffield was also acquired, adding the manufacture of powder flasks to firm's output.

 

James Dixon and Sons, 1835-1920
When the second son, James Willis Dixon (1813-1876), joined the firm, the firm's name was changed. James Willis spent some of his time travelling to America, acting as the representative there. In 1836, the firm began to make spoons and forks from nickel silver - an alloy of nickel, copper and zinc. In the 1850s, several new buildings were constructed to accommodate a stamp shop, showrooms, plating shops for the electro-plate processes and more warehouse space. James Dixon, the founder, retired in 1842 leaving three sons, William Frederick, James Willis and Henry Isaac (1820-1912), together with the son-in-law, William Fawcett, to run the business. The firm exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851, being awarded several prizes in different classes for silver and Britannia metal (these medals are currently on display at the Millenium gallery exhibition in Sheffield). In the 1870s, the firm opened its first London showroom on Ludgate Hill.

James Willis Dixon, junior (1838-1917) became the leading figure in this family firm, no doubt continuing to oversee the American trade, having been born in New York. The European trade was in the hands of James Dixon, (1851-1947) the son of Henry Isaac. He was the only member of the family to become Master Cutler, and one of the youngest at 36 years of age. In 1877 when James Dixon (son of Henry Isaac) had taken over the works, he was elected a Member of the Cutlers Company. In 1882 he became a Searcher; progressing in 1885 to Junior Warden; in 1886 Senior Warden and in 1887 he became Master Cutler. At his Cutlers' Feast, his guest of honour was Mr E. Stanhope (Secretary of State for War) as Prince George was unable to come. During James' time as Master Cutler, the Cutlers Hall was extended and the Merchandise Marks Act was published. This Act was considered extremely important at the time and prohibited the sale of unmarked goods, making all companies mark their goods with their name and place of origin. James held a lot of feasts and dinners during his time as Master Cutler, including one for all the deaf and dumb people and one for all the Sheffield Postmen on Christmas morning. James Dixon was also Guardian of the Sheffield Assay Office, 1915-1920.

Lennox Burton Dixon, the son of James Willis Dixon junior and the great-grandson of James Dixon, the founder, started to work for the company in 1887, and continued there until his death in August 1941. Another son of James Willis Dixon, jnr. was Joseph (c.1841-1890) but he did not work in the family firm. According to his obituary in Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 13 January 1890, he was educated at Sheffield Collegiate School and on the Continent. For five years he worked with George Wostenholm & Son at Washington Works, cutlery manufacturers and was then recruited by Sir John Brown, steel manufacturer, as foreign traveller on Continent, especially in St Petersburg. Joseph Dixon later formed Brown, Bayley & Dixon, where his Russian contacts proved useful.

By the end of the 19th century, some of the early 19th century buildings were being replaced. New offices, warehouses and a casting shop, with a crucible stack were built and the boiler house was enlarged. During the First World War, presses were installed to produce tin helmets which, after the War, were used to make pressings for gas lamp components.

James Dixon and Sons Ltd, 1920 onwards
After the introduction of stainless steel for cutlery in the 1920s, the company, which had initially rejected it, used this metal for cutlery and holloware. The firm acquired another large silver manufacturer, William Hutton's, in the interwar years. Cutlery and holloware continued to be made in large quantities and the gun accessories, with reproduction powder flasks, were also important product lines. Commemorative pieces, such as 16 Gold Cups for the Grand National, the Blue Riband Trophy in 1935 for the fastest Atlantic crossing by an ocean liner and the 1963 World Golf Cup, were designed in-house by Charles Holliday.

The 1962 Buyers Guide of Cutlery and Silverware lists James Dixon and Sons Ltd. principal products as being cutlery, silverware, electroplated goods, canteens, spirit flasks and stainless steel flatware. However, times began to change and the family involvement ended in 1976 with the death of Milo Dixon.

The next few years saw changes in ownership with stability in 1994 when the company was acquired by the Solpro Group and this company headed by Past Master Cutler Paul Tear presided over James Dixon and Sons during further restructuring in the company to ensure its continuence into the 21st century.

Today the silverware produced in the name of James Dixon and Sons is manufactured by a small number of very skilled craftsmen and women, some of whom apprenticed with the original company. The quantity of items produced in recent times has reduced, however, the diversity and quality of silverware is still some of the very best in the world.

What hasn't changed in the 21st century can be best encaptured in the words of James Dixon himself.  "When I commenced in business in 1806, it was with this determination that nothing should go out of my hands,bearing my name, which could disgrace that name".
 






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