William Beilby was an eminent glass decorator and enamellist. In 1761, Beilby discovered a method to fuse his enamel paintings with glass using heat, giving rise to a successful family trade. William, his brother Ralph and their sister, Mary became leading advocates of enamelling in Britain during the second half of the 18th century.
They were based in Newcastle upon Tyne and Fife in Scotland where they applied a distinctive white and bluish white enamel onto various glassware for decoration.
Beilby was well known for his depictions of family crests and coats of arms. He produced around 90 recorded heraldic decanters, goblets and wine glasses, mainly with English armorials of which a significant handful depict Royal coats of arms. One of the more historically significant works include the Royal Arms of George III, to commemorate the launch of the slave ship ‘King George’ in 1763.
Apart from insignias, Beilby painted various themes such as hunting, fishing, pastoral scenes, chinese pavilions, classical ruins, exotic birds and beehives. Other motifs include more abstract, organic designs such as vine-scroll and hop-and-barley patterns. Much of his designs used white enamel with pink and blue highlights, with the rim of the glass being typically gilded.
Some of the most prized examples of his craft were the glasses that he produced to commemorate the birth of the Prince of Wales on August 4, 1762. These were fully painted in the colours of the English herald with white mantling and shadowing in other colours.
Original Beilby pieces are rare and extremely valuable. The most recently sold Beilby piece, a fine Prince William V of Orange goblet, was auctioned off by Bonhams in 2011 for a price of £117,000.
Rarer still, are Beilby’s sweetmeat glass and sugar bowl pieces.
Identifying his work should not be challenging due to their distinctive enamel decoration. He also signed his work with either W. Beilby, Beilby Junior or a mark of a butterfly.