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NEWMAN, WILLIAM HERMAN, jeweller, silversmith, and businessman; b. 1829 in Königsberg, East Prussia (Kaliningrad, U.S.S.R.), son of J. W. Newman and Catherine —; m. first Amelia —; m. secondly 5 Sept. 1865 Charlotte Louisa Cromartie (d. 1868) in Halifax, and they had one son; d. 18 Dec. 1894 in Dartmouth, N. S .

Like several other Halifax jewellers and silversmiths, including Peter Nordbeck*, William Herman Newman was born and probably trained in Germany. Nothing is known about him until 1854 when he was working in Boston as an engraver with the jewellery manufacturer H. D. Morse. Another young Prussian, Julius Cornelius, also worked with Morse. Newman and Cornelius came to Halifax, apparently together, in 1855 and soon were in business together on Hollis Street. Their partnership was dissolved on 28 Feb. 1857; Cornelius set up business across the street and Newman continued in their old location. By 1859 he had married and was able to buy land for his business on Granville Street, where silversmiths had located since at least the 1830s.

Throughout his career Newman both imported and manufactured jewellery (he would stress manufacturing less in his later advertisements). He imported a variety of jewellery, silver, clocks, watches, and optical goods. At his death jewellery and watches would account for 70 per cent of his inventory, clocks and optical goods 12½ per cent, and sterling and electroplated silver the remaining 17½ per cent. Newman repaired and made to order gold and silver jewellery, chains, “hair pieces,” and masonic emblems. Several gold-fields had been discovered in Nova Scotia from 1858, and provincial jewellers often used native gold. A locket and a brooch both known to have been made by Newman are of Nova Scotian gold and stones. Unfortunately, since jewellers did not sign their work, attribution is rare and it is difficult to judge Newman’s work in this field.

A new market for gold- and silver-work developed from about 1859. A sudden and rapid increase in the volunteer militia made rifle-shooting competitions popular, and gold or silver medals, frequently made locally, were offered as prizes. Newman made at least two, and John McCulloch and Cornelius in Halifax, William Neilson Mills of Pictou, and probably other craftsmen also made them. Newman’s most remarkable piece of silver, indeed one of Nova Scotia’s most noteworthy, was made for this market. In 1861 New Brunswick had offered a prize cup for an intercolonial shooting competition, and in 1862 Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia followed suit. The Nova Scotia cup was the grand prize at a match held at Truro on 1012 Sept. 1862. Newman’s creation of this cup, which he did not sign, is established by contemporary accounts. In presenting the cup, Major-General Charles Hastings Doyle* described it as a “beautiful specimen of native talent and art, designed and executed by Mr. Newman of Halifax,” and the Halifax Evening Express and Commercial Record, noting that he had displayed the cup in his store window, stated, “To Mr. Newman alone belongs the credit for designing and executing this superb piece of plate.”

The cup is 17 inches high and elaborately decorated. The ornate base rises to a three-tiered stem, on the bowl are the provincial arms in local gold, surrounded by Nova Scotian wild flowers, and the lid is surmounted by the figures of a bugler and a rifleman. The flowers, although not a traditional motif, were popular with local artists at the time. Nova Scotians Elizabeth Bessonett and Maria Frances Ann Miller [Morris*] sent water-colours and lithographs of wild flowers to the International Exhibition in London in 1862 and McEwan and Reid of Halifax exhibited a chair with carved flowers. Newman may well have got the idea for the motif from them or from press reports of their work.

Numerous other pieces, most of them spoons, with Newman’s pseudo-hallmarks have survived. In Britain hallmarks were a sequence of symbols, required by law, that precisely identified the maker, silver content, assay office, and year. Where such laws did not exist, many silversmiths used various patterns of similar symbols to assert the quality of their work. From 1840, perhaps earlier, virtually all Nova Scotian silversmiths used the same pattern of pseudo hallmarks: the maker’s, or retailer’s, initials or occasionally full name; the sovereign’s head; the first letter of the town; and a lion passant. This convention demonstrates that Nova Scotian silversmiths were aware of themselves as a community of craftsmen. Newman was part of this group since the pattern of marks exists on about two-thirds of his pieces or sets that are in three public collections. The convention broke down in the 1870s; therefore most of the silver with Newman’s marks probably dates from his early years in Halifax.

However, a silversmith’s name or initials on silver is not necessarily proof that he made it. Increasingly after mid century the old arrangement by which silversmiths were craftsmen who designed, made, and retailed their own work was disappearing. They were being replaced by a few “makers to the trade” and merchants who retailed their work. Marks on silver were increasingly those of the retailer rather than the maker, and the makers came to be hired industrial workers rather than craftsmen. Indeed, after 1860 the category of silversmith disappeared from the Halifax directories. Newman was able to adapt to these changes in the silver trade and became a merchant. Two surviving examples of silver with his initials also have what appears to be David Hudson Whiston’s mark. Whiston was one of the more important makers to the trade in Halifax in the 1870s and 1880s. Newman, at the time of his death, had accounts with M. S. Brown and Company in Halifax [see Michael Septimus Brown*], S. and A. Saunders in Toronto, and James Eastwood in New Glasgow, N.S., all of whom made silver or jewellery. By 1890 Newman also imported electroplated ware and possibly sterling from England, the United States, and Germany.

After becoming successful as a merchant, William Herman Newman diversified his interests. In January 1874, a month before he became a British subject, he began to buy real estate on Hollis Street and over the next 16 years he was involved in ten transactions in Halifax or Dartmouth. In 1885 he built a large four-storey stone building which housed his business and gave him considerable space to rent. Three years earlier he had bought land in Dartmouth overlooking Halifax Harbour. Here he lived in an attractive house with beautiful gardens and a private wharf. Unlike many silversmiths in Nova Scotia and elsewhere in Canada, Newman had adjusted, and even prospered, as the silver trade was consolidated in fewer and fewer hands.

Brian D. Murphy

William Herman Newman’s work survives in several public and private collections. The PANS holds two examples and the Nova Scotia Museum in Halifax six or seven; in the Henry Birks Coll. of Canadian Silver at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa) there are four sets totalling 25 teaspoons as well as two single items, one of which is the Nova Scotia Provincial Prize Cup (Birks 24230).

Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, no.4615 (mfm. at PANS). Halifax County Registry of Deeds (Halifax), Deeds, 125, nos.568–69; 192, no.71; 210, nos.1443–44; 211, no.477; 223, no.173; 227, no.1324; 252, nos.500, 752; 253, no.575; 269, no.1475; 270, no.632 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, Misc. “A,” architecture: Dumaresq (mfm.); Photo Coll., Notman Studio proof print, no.35183 (W. H. Newman, with child); RG 18, A, 1, no.144; RG 32, M, 191(A), no.19; WB, 37, no.380. R. G. Haliburton et al., Report of the commissioners of the International Exhibition of Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1863). N.B., Militia, Report (Fredericton), 1863: 7. British Colonist (Halifax), 5 March 1857, 1 April 1858. Colonial Standard (Pictou, N.S.), 19, 26 Aug., 2, 16, 23 Sept., 21 Oct. 1862. Evening Express and Commercial Record, 8, 10 Sept. 1862. Halifax Herald, 19 Dec. 1894. Morning Chronicle (Halifax), 16 Sept. 1862, 19 Dec. 1894. Novascotian, 11 Sept. 1865, 2 March 1868. Boston directory ... (Boston), 1853–55. DCB, vol.X (biog. of M. F. A. Morris (Miller)). R. [A. C.] Fox, Presentation pieces and trophies from the Henry Birks Collection of Canadian Silver (exhibition catalogue, Ottawa, 1985). Halifax directory, 1858–59, 1863, 1869–70, 1890–94. D. C. Mackay, Silversmiths and related craftsmen of the Atlantic provinces (Halifax, 1973). N.S. directory, 1864–65, 1890–97. Harry Piers and D. C. Mackay, Master goldsmiths and silversmiths of Nova Scotia and their marks, ed. U. B. Thomson and A. M. Strachan (Halifax, 1948). Jim Burant, “The development of the visual arts in Halifax, Nova Scotia, from 1815 to 1867 as an expression of cultural awakening” (ma research essay, Carleton Univ., Ottawa, 1979). J. E. Langdon, Canadian silversmiths, 1700–1900 (Toronto, 1966). J. P. Martin, The story of Dartmouth (Dartmouth, N.S., 1957). J. M. and L. J. Payzant, Like a weaver’s shuttle: a history of the Halifax-Dartmouth ferries (Halifax, 1979). J. P. Edwards, “The militia of Nova Scotia, 1749–1867,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 17 (1913): 65–108. Mail-Star (Halifax), 25 June 1975: 12.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Brian D. Murphy, “NEWMAN, WILLIAM HERMAN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 28, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/newman_william_herman_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/newman_william_herman_12E.html
Author of Article: Brian D. Murphy
Title of Article: NEWMAN, WILLIAM HERMAN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: July 28, 2014