Two recently acquired works, a silver racing trophy and a watercolour, provide an unusually personal domestic link to early colonial life in South Australia. The presentation silver cup, with its repoussé decoration of leaves and flowers, was produced in 1849 by Adelaide silversmith Charles Eduard Firnhaber and the watercolour was painted around 1850 by JM Skipper. They are connected through their association with one of South Australia’s most important early citizens, Sir John Morphett, who was knighted in 1870 for his services to the state.
Firnhaber was born in Germany in 1805 and trained in the art of silversmithing and associated clock-making, jewellery and dentistry work. He was among the earliest German settlers in the state, having arrived from Bremen on 24 March 1847. It is probable that he first worked for the Adelaide jewellers George Griffin, established 1840, and definitely with John Henry Pace, established 1841. At the time, both firms were exploiting the newly found South Australian silver ore deposits at the Wheal Gawler mine. By 1849, Firnhaber had established his business, CE Firnhaber, and was commissioned by prominent people and businesses to design and make presentation, civic and ecclesiastical silver objects. He advertised his business until 1875 and died in Adelaide on 25 July 1880.
This cup was commissioned by the Adelaide publican, race promoter, theatre manager and actor George Selth Coppin. Known informally as ‘The Coppin Cup’, it was the first major item of commissioned silver to be made in South Australia. Named after Coppin’s Royal Exchange Hotel, the cup was presented to the winner of the 1850 Adelaide New Year Races, the noted sportsman Charles Brown Fisher. It is of elegant German baroque revival form and fine craftsmanship and bears the inscription: ‘Adelaide Races, 2ndJany, 1850, Royal Exchange Cup, presented by, Mr. George Coppin, and won by, Mr. Chas. Fisher’s B.G. Highflyer, Carrying 12 stone 3 Mile Heats’.
in artonview, issue 73, Autumn 2013