Bruce James Talbert was born in 1838 in Dundee, the son of James Talbert, merchant and was educated at Dundee High School. He was articled to Millar, a Dundee woodcarver and commenced business as a woodcarver on his own account. This did not prove successful commercially and after two years he entered the office of the Dundee architect Charles Edward for whom he designed the heraldic motifs of the Kinnaird Hall, built 1857-58.
Probably in 1857 rather than the 1856, the date usually given, Talbert moved to Glasgow to work for William Nairne Tait, but by 1860 he was in the office of Campbell Douglas & Stevenson from which he won two prizes, an architectural design medal in 1860 and the Edinburgh Architectural Association medal.
In 1862 Talbert moved to Manchester to design furniture for the cabinet makers Doveston Bird & Hull but in October of that year he moved to Francis Skidmore’s Art Manufactures in Coventry at a salary of four guineas a week. There he drew up the working drawings for George Gilbert Scott’s Hereford Cathedral screen and Albert Memorial. He remained there until 1866 when he moved to London to work for Holland & Sons, furniture makers who were then preparing for the Paris Exhibition of 1867. His designs won a silver medal and commissions from Cox & Son, ecclesiastical metalworkers, and the furniture makers Gillows flowed in. In the same year, 1867, he published ‘Gothic Forms applied to Furniture, Metalwork and Decoration for Domestic Purposes’, the first plates of which appeared in July. But over-commitment and the London atmosphere had affected his health and he returned to Dundee where he set up ‘a tasteful studio’, address not traced, completed ‘Gothic Forms’ and provided designs for Gillows and James Lamb of Manchester.
Probably in 1869 he returned to London, living first at 10 Nottingham Place and then at 18 Bury Street (1871) and 11 Argyle Street (1872). He continued to work for Gillows, Cox & Son and the Coalbrookdale Iron Company, and began exhibiting designs for interiors at the Royal Academy. In 1873 he took premises at 98 Gower Street jointly with the stained glass artist George Cook, close to the premises of Cottier & Co in which his former colleague at Campbell Douglas’s, John McKean Brydon, was a partner. The Gower Street business prospered and in June 1874 he married Amy Adkins, the daughter of the well-off Birmingham maltster, Henry Adkins. They took a house at 5 Euston Square which then became both house and studio.
In 1876 Talbert brought out his second book ‘Examples of Ancient and Modern Furniture, Metal Work, Tapestries, Decoration etc’ and he soon had more work than he could carry out, his clients now also including Warners; Jackson & Graham; Marsh Jones & Cribb; Collinson & Lock; Vaughan & Sons; Caleb Trapnell of Bristol; Steel & Garland of Sheffield; William Frain of Dundee; Templetons Carpets of Glasgow; and many others, possibly including Walter MacFarlane & Co of Saracen Iron Works, Glasgow. The crowning achievement of his career was winning the Grand Prix at the Paris Exhibition of 1878 with the Juno cabinet made by Jackson & Graham.
Chronic overwork eventually resulted in alcoholism. He died on 28 January 1881 and was buried at Kensal Green. His wife Amy closed the studio and returned to Warwickshire.