Henry George Murphy was born in Birchington-on-Sea in Kent in 1884 and even as a small boy he showed an interest in jewellery. In 1899 the jewellery designer Henry Wilson offered him an apprenticeship and Murphy worked for Wilson until 1912, when he set up his own workshop. He initally worked in silver but soon moved on to gold and expensive gems. In 1922 he designed a gold, topaz and sapphire tiara for Mary, Princes Royal for her engagement, and in 1924 he designed a miniature version of the crown jewels for Queen Mary’s dolls’ house at Windsor Castle.
Murphy designed mainly pendants, brooches, rings and buckles in styles from Arts and Crafts to Art Deco. The pieces were exquisite and stood out from the cheap, repetitive jewellery of the day, which consisted mainly of cheap diamond chipped rings and brooches.
In 1928 Henry George Murphy founded the Falcon studio and took up making silverware such as church plate, trophies and domestic items covering a range from tankards to egg cups. His circular modernist coffee set won a gold medal at the Milan International Exhibition in 1933. Murphy’s first passion though was jewellery and he produced some stunning earrings and necklaces in the Art Deco style. He also produced a sizeable range of inexpensive silver brooches, his zodiac and animal designs being particularly popular.
People often wonder why he was so successful in his day and we can probably put it down to the fact that he had a shop in central London, and that meant he had to be commercial and keep up with the changing fashions. Also, there was nobody at the time who was producing jewellery or silverware that was as stylish or distinctive. His jewellery was bright and colourful and his earrings were often of an architectural nature that reminded people of the modernist buildings in New York.
Murphy was a typical example of the fact that success does not necessarily equal wealth. He often struggled with cashflow, probably due to the fact that his customers were slow in paying. At the peak of production in the early 1930s he employed ten people who all needed to be paid. It was quite a stressful existence, especially as some of his time was also spent lecturing at the Central School of Art, where he was appointed Head of silversmithing, as well as attending overseas trade events.
If you are interested in owning a piece of Henry George Murphy jewellery, you are not likely to find it at a car boot sale, but would have to visit a specialist dealer and his pieces are not for the cash-strapped. The jewels you are most likely to find are his silver zodiac brooches, they would be about the size of an old penny and you would have to pay around £400, while a silver ring would cost between £500 – £800 and a pendant £1,000 – £1,500. His gold pieces rarely appear on the market, but if you were to find one you should expect to pay between £2,500 and £5,000 for a Falcon Studio ring. At the top end, a gold necklace or a pair of earrings would cost between £5,000 – £10,000, especially if they were in the original Falcon Studio green leather box. His silver pieces are easy to identify as most bear both, the Falcon Studio mark and the monogram HGM, as well as the hallmark. His gold jewellery is rarely marked, which makes identification problematic.
While Henry George Murphy was largely forgotten after the war when pre-war designers were not in favour, in 2005 there was a major retrospective of his life and work at Goldsmiths’ Hall in London. This broadened Murphy’s appeal and prices are still rising. He produced several hundred items of jewellery between 1928 and 1939, and if you can afford to buy one it could prove a shrewd investment.