Providing a stark contrast to bright polished silver, dark-green emu egg shells were used by colonial silversmiths to create distinctively Australian presentation pieces throughout the second part of the 19th century. Fragile, the green colour fading to brown with time, and generally not fashionable in the following century, many silver-mounted emu eggs have been lost or destroyed, making the surviving examples particularly attractive to historians and collectors. It remains unresolved as to who among early Australian silversmiths first designed and made the silver-mounted emu egg. They have been made from the mid 1850s. This piece was made in the workshop of William Edwards (b London 1819-?), a leading Melbourne silversmith in the 1860s and 1870s.
The son of a London silversmith , William Edwards migrated to Melbourne in 1857 to become a leading supplier of silverware -either imported or made in his workshop - initially from from his premises in Collins Street East, until about 1876. Until about 1872 he ran a business in Melbourne which supplied silverware to major retailers; some objects were imported from the family business in London. From about 1873 to 1892, Edwards worked in partnership with Alexander Kaul. William Edwards' workshop excelled in the production of silver-mounted emu egg trophies and is credited with making the earliest surviving piece, the covered cup presented in 1859 to a Melbourne University scholar by his students (also in this Museum's collection). Edwards introduced a range of emu egg 'novelties' to Australian silver. His various cups and inkstands are usually supported on small silver tree ferns rising from octofoil bases embossed with emus, kangaroos and rocks or purely with floral decoration. Although silver-mounted emu eggs form the largest surviving body of Edward's output, his workshop also produced a number of silver and occasionally gold trophies and epergnes some of which were displayed in international exhibitions. Edwards was also responsible for major commissions such as the gifts for Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh which subsequently brought him an appointment as goldsmith and jeweller the the Duke's household. The majority of the firm's wares were designed in the naturalistic and rococo revival styles. From the early 1860s, classical revival motifs and forms began appearing, often in combination with rococo and sometimes gothic elements.
See: J Wade, 'Even earlier emu eggs', Australiana , vol 33 no 1, pp14-18.