Albert Willms, a Parisian who also worked for the metalsmiths Christofle, Froment-Meurice and Paillard, was head of the Elkington's design studio from 1859 until the end of the century. His celebrated designs for a Neo-Grec dessert service, shown at the International Exhibition of 1862 (see sale, these rooms, 19 October 2004, lot 246), represented an early foray by Elkington and Co. into the production of the colourful enamelled work that we see in the present lot. In 1876, Elkington showed a group of cloisonné enamelled ornaments at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (Contributions to the International Exhibition at Philadelphia 1876, Londoll, 1876). The enamels, designed in the East Asian taste with the advice of Dresser, were lauded by the public, but their manufacture was later abandoned by Elkington due to high production costs.
The 19th Century European fascination with ancient Egypt had been ongoing since Napoleon's invasion of North Africa. In America, the interest arose out of a general interest in the ancient world that developed from Neoclassicism. The colourfully exotic taste that we think of as the Egyptian Revival had its beginnings in the 1860s. The style was propelled during the 1876 exhibition when a temple façade at the Egyptian court drew national attention (D. Pierce, Art & Enterprise, American Decorative Art, 1825-1917, Antique Collector's Club, New York, 1999, pp.142-143).
The coat-of-arms on this centrepiece, with the Latin motto translating to "A little is increased by degrees" represents the Williamson family, originally of Hutchinfield, Scotland (B. Burke, The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, London 1984).