The Race is Not to the Swift

Hester Bateman Pitcher

Perseverance is one of life’s great virtues—something we admire in others but shrink back from learning ourselves. This is because perseverance presupposes a series of efforts, all of which (except the last) fall short of the final goal. Perseverance isn’t the same thing as hard work. Newt Gingrich once said, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.”

Hester Bateman, a silversmith who worked in London in the mid- to late-eighteenth century, knew a thing or two about perseverance. In an industry dominated by men, she persevered and succeeded. Yet her career as a silversmith was never intended.  

Hester was born in 1704 and married John Bateman, a goldsmith, at the age of 21. After giving birth to six children—four boys and two girls—her husband died of consumption, leaving the family only a small workshop and his metal-working tools. Suddenly a widow at the age of 51 (considered almost elderly), living in a time when women were generally not accepted in the trades, Hester had few options. And yet, unperturbed by well-entrenched male competitors, she registered her own hallmark, a scroll bearing her initials, HB. Aided by her sons, Peter and Jonathan, who were then completing apprenticeships in silversmithing, along with Jonathan’s wife, Ann, Hester opened her own workshop at 107 Bunhill Row in North London. No small task. 

Most silversmiths of the Georgian era specialized in one area of production, but the Batemans produced all kinds of silverware, earning over time a reputation for excellence in quality, design, and fine detailing. Perseverance won the day. In 1790, Hester retired at the grand old age of 81, leaving her workshop to her sons Peter and John. The Batemans are among the most famous of all English silversmith dynasties, and Hester is known today as “The Queen of English Silversmiths. 

I’ve been exercising perseverance this summer. After three years and three full revisions on my mystery manuscript, there are still changes that must be made. I feel like I’ve been peeling an onion. Somewhere in there is a story worth telling, but the more layers I peel back, the more layers I see. Hester Bateman inspires me to persevere. 

Like my main character Kate, I was taught to recognize the marks on antique silver along with my ABCs. Would you like to be able to identify silver made in Hester Bateman’s workshop? All English silver is impressed with “hallmarks,” usually on the underside of the item. They will look something like this: Silver Hallmarks

From left to right:

1. Maker’s Mark: This piece was made by Peter Bateman and Ann Bateman. Often the Maker’s Mark is on the far right instead of the left.

2. Purity of the Silver: The “lion passant” is the mark of sterling silver (.925).

3. Assay Office Mark (City of Manufacture): Up until 1822, the crowned leopard’s head indicated London (from 1822 to the present, the leopard’s head is uncrowned).

4. Year of Manufacture: The year an item was made is indicated by a letter of the alphabet on a shield of a certain shape. The lowercase “r” on this shape means 1792 (there is a helpful chart).

5. Duty Mark: From 1784 until 1890, the Duty Mark was created, indicating that a tax on the item had been paid to the crown. The mark used was a profile of the reigning monarch—in this case, George III (1786-1821).           

  This is the Maker’s Mark for Hester Bateman herself. Hester Bateman

The race is not to the swift but to those who keeping running.

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