LANGFORD, JAMES J. (or James I.), jeweller and silversmith; b. in or about 1815; the son, probably adopted, of John and Grace Langford; m. 12 Oct. 1843 Jane Grant in Halifax, and they had no surviving children; d. there 6 Feb. 1847.
The evidence of James J. Langford’s family background is contradictory. Grace Langford’s second husband, the silversmith Peter Nordbeck*, claimed in a petition to the Halifax County Court of Probate that Grace was the mother of James Langford, but she could not have been the natural mother. Aged 31 at his death, James must have been born in 1815 or early 1816. There is, however, no record of the birth of James Langford at that time; moreover, another son of John and Grace Langford, William Payne, was born on 1 Sept. 1815. It seems likely, then, that James was adopted.
John Langford, a goldsmith and jeweller, had come to Halifax from London shortly before September 1809. Through him James may have been heir to a rich family tradition of metal work in England. Two Langfords had been pewterers there in the late 1670s, as was Thomas Langford of London in 1751 and afterwards. During the period 1719–57 John Langford, also of London, was active in the same craft, and a second John Langford was working in pewter in 1780; both used symbols that included a forearm holding a hammer over a small horizontal barrel. In addition to these five pewterers, John Langford and Thomas Langford were active as silversmiths in England in the decade 1766–76. The relationship, if any, of these craftsmen to each other and to James Langford and his father is unclear. That James’s symbol was a bent arm holding a hammer raised in a position to strike may suggest a connection.
James Langford became closely associated with other silversmiths in Halifax. His father had been a partner of Lewis (Ludovic) Hulsman from 1809 to at least 1811, and James grew up on Granville Street, where the silversmiths Richard Upham Marsters, Gustave La Baume, Peter Nordbeck, and Henry Mignowitz were working. Nordbeck, who became his stepfather in 1833, was later the most successful Nova Scotian silversmith of his time. James Langford may have apprenticed with either Nordbeck or Mignowitz, who had been partners at least twice between 1824 and 1831. When, on 14 July 1838, he announced that he had commenced business, he described himself as a “Working Gold & Silversmith, Jeweller, &c” and gave his address as “adjoining Mr. Mignowitz’s stone building.”
Langford acquired considerable public patronage as a silversmith. Within two years he was advertising hollow-ware, and several of his chalices have survived, including one that he made with Nordbeck. Chalices by local silversmiths are relatively scarce, perhaps because in largely Protestant Nova Scotia religious commissions were less important than they were in, for example, Lower Canada. A commemorative tankard of Langford’s was presented in July 1841 to the secretary of the Halifax Agricultural Society. As early as April 1840 Langford had taken Franz F. Meyer as his assistant and on 1 Nov. 1841 they became partners. In addition to making gold- and silver-ware they imported “jewelry, Plated Ware and fancy Goods in General.” The partnership, like many others between Halifax silversmiths, did not last long, and after 15 months it was dissolved. From then until his death in 1847 Langford seems to have devoted his energy to his work in silver. His newspaper advertisements stressed the variety of his flatware and serving pieces and noted that he made them in all patterns.
Langford died without a will. Nordbeck and Jane Langford then petitioned the Court of Probate to appoint as administrators of his estate Jane’s father, Daniel Grant, and Nordbeck himself, both of whom were creditors of Langford. The appointment was co-guaranteed by Alexander Troup and Charles D. Witham, both silversmiths and jewellers. Langford’s most valuable asset was his business, and it was quickly sold to William James Veith and George Witham. They used his symbol of the raised bent arm holding a hammer and in describing their services they mentioned the same products and the same patterns that Langford had offered. After the dissolution of their partnership two years later, Veith carried on alone until 1860.
Langford’s career was short; nevertheless, a relatively large quantity of his silver still exists. His best pieces, such as the sugar tongs in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, are effortless and confident. A set of six knives in the Henry Birks Collection at the National Gallery of Canada is remarkable both for the delicacy of the leafy pattern engraved at the base of the blades and for their rarity, since knives are virtually unknown in Canadian silver. Langford’s ideas and designs were innovative and experimental, and as a result his surviving work is surprisingly diverse. His early death left the Halifax silversmithing community without one of its most energetic, capable, and promising members.
The main surviving examples of James Langford’s work as a silversmith are in the Henry Birks Coll. of Silver at the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa) and, to a lesser extent, at the N.S. Museum (Halifax). In addition, the following institutions each possess one of his spoons: the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the McCord Museum, and the Royal Ont. Museum, Sigmund Samuel Canadiana Building (Toronto).
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, no.205 (James J. Langford) (mfm. at PANS). PANS, RG 35A, 1–3. St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Reg. of baptisms. Acadian Recorder, 14 Sept. 1833; 14 July 1838; 8 Feb. 1840; 6 Nov. 1841; 5 July 1845; 6 Feb., 27 March, 17, 24 April, 1, 8 May 1847. Halifax Morning Post & Parliamentary Reporter, 4 Nov. 1841; 25, 27, 29 Jan., 1, 3 Feb. 1842. Novascotian, 12 Sept. 1833; 9, 16 April, 9 July 1840; 1 Sept. 1842; 30 Jan., 20, 27 Feb. 1843; 8 Feb. 1847. Times (Halifax), 27 July 1841, 17 Oct. 1843. H. H. Cotterell, Old pewter, its makers and marks in England, Scotland, and Ireland . . . (London, 1929; repub. 1963). C. J. Jackson, English goldsmiths and their marks . . . (2nd ed., London, 1921; repr. New York, 1964). J. E. Langdon, Canadian silversmiths, 1700–1900 (Toronto, 1966). D. C. Mackay, Silversmiths and related craftsmen of the Atlantic provinces (Halifax, 1973). 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). D. [C.] Mackay, “Goldsmiths and silversmiths,” Canadian Antiques Collector (Toronto), 7 (1972), no.1: 22–26.