Comparisons

By David Whitbread


The pleasure of collecting old spoons, or any other works of craftsmanship, does not lie in their size and weight but these factors are relevant when one thinks about how they were used or the market they were meant for so I do not make too many apologies for reverting to the topic.


In the April Finial I wrote, with some accompanying charts, about comparing the lengths and weights of spoons but I did not attempt to produce charts to cover my earlier, pre-Trefid spoons as I had too few to make such an exercise very meaningful. Since I have so far restricted myself to acquiring single examples of early spoons with any given type of finial, a chart showing how they compared with each other would have done little more than show that spoons with larger finials tend unsurprisingly to be more substantial than those with the smaller types of finial. So if I want to assess one of these spoons I have to look elsewhere for my comparators.

Since the Maidenhead finial is pretty unvarying, which reduces any problem over deciding whether one is comparing like with like, I felt this might be a good one to start with. However I thought that at the same time I might try and see how my rather rarer Virgin and Heart compared given the similarity in the finials. The details of these two spoons are:

a)MAIDENHEADLONDON 1592William Cawdell16.3cm30.6g(1.87)
b)VIRGIN & HEARTLONDON 1612William Limpanny15.7cm28.8g(1.83)

The figure in brackets in each case is the ratio of the weight to the length of the spoon and I will come to the relevance of that later.

To get comparisons I looked through those sale catalogues from the last few years that I happen to have kept and noted first the Maidenheads - but only where length and weight were quoted. The trawl produced a list of 6 London examples and 12 provincial. Cawdell with 3 examples was the only maker to come up more than once in my arbitrary sample.

All but 4 of the spoons were late 16th or early 17th century. The majority were between 16.1 cm and 16.5 cm long and the average length was 16.2 cm. Eleven of the spoons were listed as weighing 1 oz. The rest, with one lightweight exception at 0.75 oz, were anything up to a quarter of an ounce heavier. I assume that there was a fair amount of rounding in the quoted weights and that it is not a case of 11 spoons happening to weigh exactly 1 oz (31.1g). On this basis my spoon at 30.6g can presumably be rounded to 1 oz. Although the catalogue information was not detailed enough for me to try comparing the weight/length ratios, I have ended up satisfied that by virtue of its maker, its date and its size my Maidenhead, in tolerable condition, is about as typical as I can get if I am to restrict myself to a single example (though I had not realised that provincial spoons would outnumber London ones quite as much as they do). And it has given me a slightly better feel for the field than simply relying on vague memories of those I have handled or seen illustrated.

If the Maidenhead was meant to be typical, the rather more worn Virgin and Heart falls into the unusual variant category. It is a smaller spoon, as How warns us to expect, though not as small as the one How illustrates (English and Scottish Silver Spoons, Vol II, p.192). There was only one other example to be found in the catalogues I was going through - provincial, much the same length, but heavier which seemed to confirm my initial feeling that mine was of relatively light gauge as well as confirming its relative rarity. However, this is where I looked at the weight/length ratio. You will see that the ratios for the Virgin and Heart and the Maidenhead are very close to each other. This demonstrates that for its length my Virgin and Heart is actually rather more substantial than the Maidenhead, contrary to my initial impression. (If the gauge of the larger spoon was also greater in proportion to its length there would have been a much larger difference in the ratios.) Virgin and Heart spoons may be smaller than the normal but, admittedly on the basis of just two examples, I have had to revise my opinion that they are also lightweight or slight.

One tends to think that smaller spoons may have been made for children. I wonder whether part of the symbolism of the Virgin and Heart finial refers to a mother's love and these spoons were originally christening gifts?

Fellow members may be relieved to know that when I went on to trawl the catalogues for comparators for spoons with other types of finial the exercise became more difficult because of the variety in detail of the finials and the greater spread of dates and sizes of the spoons. While it gave me some fun, the results of the exercise were more complex than I care to write about so you are spared a lengthier screed.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-


Review - The Ronald Grant Sale of Silver
At Mitchells of Cockermouth, 15th May 2003

By Anthony Dove F.R.S.A.


It was unfortunate that more notice was not given for this sale (the catalogue was only available a week before). There were 279 lots (mainly flatware) ranging in date from the late 17th century to George Jenson. Although only about 40 people were present, there were a number of postal and telephone bids from those who had presumably obtained details via the grapevine or the internet.

Most of the lots were London assayed but a group of Chester flatware including three dessert spoons of 1775 by Richard Richardson greatly exceeded the modest estimate of 20-40 to fetch a more realistic 410. Eight miscellaneous Dublin lots also fetched amounts over the estimates. A modestly priced collection of 15 items of Birmingham flatware, including three fully marked teaspoons by Edward Sawyer of 1776, went for 70. Six lots of Newcastle flatware included two tablespoons with the lion passant sinister of 1725/6 (an unusual feature of this assay office).

One rare item that sold for less than the lower estimate of 200 was a 22 carat gold bright cut coffee(?) spoon of small size by Sumner & Crossley c.1775-80 went for only 180. This was because there had been a repair to the bowl, which appeared to be the kiss of death to most bidders. Notwithstanding this imperfection, how often does one see such a hallmarked spoon? This item will be discussed in detail in a future issue of THE FINIAL.

There were seven lots of Hester Bateman silver in varying conditions and clarity of marks, which could have been useful for anyone wanting an instant collection by this silversmith. Four Paul Storr lots went for good prices and a Peter & Jonathan Bateman teaspoon sold for 60 against an estimate of 15-30.

I understand that his Scottish and Scottish provincial items are to be sold at Roddick & Medcalf in Edinburgh on 10th November 2003.

-o-o-o-o-o-o-

.14. / .15.
The Finial, June/July 2003


This site and images copyright © 1997-2004, by Daniel Bexfield Antiques