Something of Value
By Silas Marner
The Finial, December/January/February 2003/04
'Serendipity' n. gift of finding valuable things in unexpected places by sheer luck.
Since earliest times spoons have been recognised as a symbol of wealth and success. Used for anointing Kings, celebrating births or merely on the dinner table, spoons have retained a special place in our lives.
In military and sporting circles spoons have been presented as tokens of achievement for centuries. Initially it was the fashion to engrave a piece of standard flatware with the regimental or sporting association crest and name of recipient. In the latter part of the 19th century an industry grew up around the manufacture of souvenir and sporting award spoons. Bowls were of a standard pattern whilst the stems reflected foliate designs, golf clubs or rifles. The finial identified the organisation, club or regiment. The badge is cast in relief, voided or non-voided, and often enhanced with enamel.
A chance find on a silver dealers' blanket covered table at the Angel, Islington in 1983 started me on a long journey. I purchased five attractive regimental shooting spoons to the Rifle Brigade for £20. The finial illustrated the regimental badge voided in silver gilt and enamel. The stem is in the form of parallel rifles. The gilded bowl shows the marks for Birmingham 1917, manufactured by V & S. Vaughan & Sons. Only months after the Battle of the Somme, in which 20,000 died before breakfast, a nation, preoccupied with a massive war effort, could still find resources to produce mementos, such as spoons.
My twenty-year journey has amassed a collection of over 850 purpose made silver regimental spoons. The collection embraces spoons from the British and Commonwealth forces throughout the world. The heightened jingoism of the Boer War conducted at the turn of the 19th Century led to an explosion of interest in souvenirs. Jewellers retailed spoons with crests of famous regiments, popular generals and figures of soldiers in uniform. Tommy Atkins, Kipling's Gentlemen in khaki and Sons of the Empire were popular designs.
Retailers' catalogues of the time advertised spoons from fifteen shillings to one pound, two and sixpence. This is a considerable amount of money for the period, when a labourer may have earned only one pound per week. As late as 1930 the Army and Navy stores were advertising military spoons at ten shillings and sixpence. To commission such a spoon today would incur an enormous cost.
An analysis of my collection reveals that the fashion for military spoons spans a period of approximately 50 years from 1890 to 1940. During this period society supported a wide interest in the Rifle Volunteers, Territorial Army and the National Rifle Association. The majority of families had one form of military association or another. Most communities enjoyed rifle clubs that were frequented by part time soldiers. In India each railway company recruited its' own protective regiment, from local volunteers. Many spoons in the collection commemorate long forgotten colonial units.
The years from 1983 to the early 1990's were a fertile time for collecting from market stalls, militaria dealers and odd auctions. As time progressed the supply has significantly decreased. Prices have risen very much in line with inflation from a base of approximately £5 to £10, increasing to £20 to £30 depending on source.
Despite the size of my collection I seldom encounter duplicates and many purchases have been unique, never to be seen again.
Further articles will describe individual facets of my collection, illustrated by the relevant spoon.
By Mark Nevard
My purchase of Lot 96 in last month's auction, bought for the attraction of the pronounced rattail on the front of the stem, led me to try to identify the maker from the 'very worn marks'.
I started from scratch not having noted that the lot description suggested 'AI' as the possible initials. My first point of reference was the pellet between the two letters, unremarkable for separating Christian name from surname on sterling standard items, but nonsensical separating the first two letters of a surname under New Standard rules. This led me to search Grimwade and Jackson for any New Standard mark with a pellet between the letters. No such animal. I then tried any combinations with a vertical first stroke of the second letter, a definite feature, giving me B,D,E,F,H,I,K,L,M,N,P,R. Hardly encouraging. That faint slanting line for the first letter could only be 'A', however, unless I was reading it upside down, in which case it could be 'W' or 'V'. For that to be correct the other letter could only be 'H','N' or 'M', none of these being possible in combination, although I checked, just in case. Back to the possibles with 'A' now definite. The only combination which fitted, and in an oval cartouche, the other definite feature, was Grimwade no. 84, Andrew Archer, a known spoonmaker and working at the time, 1708, although no pellet was shown or mentioned as an alternative.
This satisfied me but I then recalled that he had featured in an article in an earlier Finial so I turned up the Aug/Sept 2002 issue, p.21 where Christopher Meade suggests Archer as the maker of two spoons whose marks are illustrated on p.178 of the June/July 2002 issue in an article by David Whitbread. From my reasoning based on more worn marks I concur with the attribution but note that neither contributor mentioned the peculiarity of the pellet where no pellet should be. It is clearly visible on my spoon and both illustrations. In the lower photo and on my example the pellet is touching the letter 'A', on the upper photo it is well clear of both letters. Evidently a different punch but clearly the same maker, if only because of the singularity of the pellet incorrectly incorporated in it.
I was, of course, gratified to note the similarity between my spoon and David's in regard to that rattail on the stem. What fun from a modest purchase!
.18. / .19.
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