Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Chaffers, William
CHAFFERS, WILLIAM (1811–1892), the standard authority on hall-marks and potters' marks, the son of W. Chaffers, was born in Watling Street, London, on 28 Sept. 1811, and was educated at Margate and at Merchant Taylors' School, where he was entered in 1824. He was descended collaterally from the family of Richard Chaffers (1731–1765), the son of a Liverpool shipwright, who set up a pottery fabric in 1752 and made blue and white earthenware in Liverpool, mainly for the American colonies. After discovering a rich vein of soapstone at Mullion in Cornwall in 1755 he became a serious rival of Wedgwood as a practical potter until his premature death in December 1765. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Nicholas in Liverpool.
William Chaffers was attracted to antiquarian studies while a clerk in the city of London by the discovery of the choice Roman and mediæval antiquities in the foundations of the Royal Exchange during 1838–9. He began at the same time to concentrate attention upon the study of gold and silver plate and ceramics, especially in regard to the official and other marks by which dates and places of fabrication can be distinguished; and in 1863 he published the two invaluable works by which he is likely to be remembered. Like Hawkins's ‘Medallic History’ or Gwilt's ‘Dictionary of Architecture,’ they are both being gradually transformed by other hands, but they will doubtless bear his name for a long time to come. They are: 1. ‘Hall Marks on Gold and Silver Plate, illustrated, with Tables of Annual Date Letters employed in the Assay Offices of the United Kingdom,’ 1863, 8vo; 3rd ed. 1868; 8th ed. with ‘Histories of the Goldsmiths' Trade, both in England and France, and revised London and Provincial Tables’ (with introductory essay by C. A. Markham, 1896). 2. ‘Marks and Monograms on Pottery and Porcelain of the Renaissance and Modern Periods, with Historical Notices of each Manufactory, preceded by an introductory Essay on Vasa Fictilia of the Greek, Romano-British, and Mediæval Eras,’ 1863, 8vo, 1866, 1870, 1872, 1874, 1876, 1886, 1897, and 1900 (with over 3,500 potters' marks), revised by Frederick Litchfield. The aim of the work was to be for the Keramic art what François Brulliot's ‘Dictionnaire des Monogrammes’ was to painting, and it at once established Chaffers as the leading authority upon his subject. He produced two further volumes of minor importance in 1887, ‘The Keramic Gallery’ (in 2 vols. with five hundred illustrations) and ‘Gilda Aurifabrorum,’ 1883 (a history of goldsmiths and plate workers, their marks, &c.), in addition to a ‘Handbook’ (1874) abridged from his ‘Marks and Monograms,’ a ‘Priced Catalogue of Coins,’ and one or two minor catalogues. But his reputation rests upon the two great works of reference and the considerable talent that he displayed in organising the exhibitions of art treasures, at Manchester in 1857, South Kensington in 1862, Leeds in 1869, Dublin in 1872, Wrexham in 1876, and Hanley (at the great Staffordshire exhibition of ceramics) in 1890.
Chaffers had been elected F.S.A. in 1843, and he was a frequent contributor to the ‘Archæologia,’ to ‘Notes and Queries,’ and to various learned periodicals upon the two subjects of which he possessed a knowledge in some respects unrivalled. About 1870 he retired from Fitzroy Square to a house in Willesden Lane, but he moved thence to West Hampstead, where he died on 12 April 1892.
[Times, 19 April 1892; Athenæum, 1892, i. 541; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. i. 406; Men of the Time, 13th ed.; Chaffers's Marks and Monograms, 1900; Mayer's Hist. of the Art of Pottery in Liverpool, 1855; Brit. Mus. Cat.]