Joseph Mayer

English goldsmith, collector and antiquarian (1803 - 1886) also donor of objects to the National Museums Liverpool

Joseph Mayer was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire. He moved to Liverpool when he was twenty. At first he was apprenticed to his brother-in-law, Joseph Wordley, a jeweller but in 1844-5 Mayer set up his own jewellery and silversmith business. It was probably this enterprise that provided him with sufficient funds to finance his passion for collecting. He became a major Victorian antiquary (Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries) whose collections embraced a vast area. His membership of the Society also brought him into contact with other collectors, such as the Birmingham-based Rev. Daniel Henry Haigh, from whom he bought WAG 6135 a watercolour copy of a 14th-century English embroidered cope. Mayer wrote numerous books and catalogues, including pioneering accounts on the history of British art.

Mayer’s interest in antiquities began at an early age and his collection covered a wide range of subjects including Wedgwood pottery, Egyptian and Roman artefacts, English paintings and medieval art. Sold his coins to the French government in 1844. Unlike the other Liverpool collector Roscoe who never left England, Mayer travelled abroad regularly. Primarily he travelled on business to observe trends but each of his trips provided the opportunity for him to study and purchase ancient and medieval art.

In 1852 Mayer opened a museum in Colquitt Street, using works he himself had collected as the exhibits. He had become captivated by the displays at the British Museum and wished his fellow-citizens of Liverpool to have the same opportunity to view the wonders of the past. As well as setting up the museum Mayer was a founder member of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, established in 1848, and a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. In 1867 Mayer gave his collection to the Liverpool Museum (now World Museum). The medieval manuscripts, ivories and enamels which made up part of this gift are now in the care of the Walker Art Gallery. A second Mayer Museum was established on his death in 1886 in his house in Bebington, Wirral and that housed until 1962 the collection he had acquired after his 1867 donation to the Liverpool Museum.
  • Gender
  • Relationship
  • Nationality
  • Born
    02 February 1803
  • Place of birth
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: Staffordshire: Newcastle-Under-Lyme
  • Died
    20 January 1886
  • Place of death
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: Merseyside: Wirral: Bebington
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
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