2002 in Retrospect - and a Great Rarity

By Timothy Kent, F.S.A.

The antique silver market generally in 2002 was very mixed. Average items, in average condition, were indubitably slow sellers, both in dealers' windows and in the salerooms, where numerous 'trade' items featured and many lots failed to sell.

On the other hand, the Collectors' market was strong, e.g. for wine labels and caddy spoons, as witness the Bonham's Sale on 29th November 2002, when specialist collectors or their agents were keen to compete at price levels well in excess of anything they would be prepared to pay 'over the counter.' Likewise any decent fancy-back teaspoon or mote spoon tended to attract strong bidding. Overall, rarities and attractive pieces in above-average condition, especially when from genuine private sources, were the winners in a fairly thin field.

In the sphere of early spoons, the 2002 field was indeed a thin one. The abovementioned Bonham's sale and the huge Wolley & Wallis sale of 30th October, both had a pretty good success ratio, but did not contain much to shout about. My point about rarity value was underlined at Bonham's (Bury St. Edmunds) on 17th December, when a Norwich Seal-Top of 1627 by Timothy Skottowe (lot 149), not in particular good condition, ran up to 5,400 hammer price as against an estimated 1000-1500. Norwich pieces are indeed rare, and two collectors must have wanted it badly.

However, my 'Spoon of the Year' beyond all doubt must be the falcon-finial spoon, which appeared as Lot 241 in the Bonham's Sale of the 29th November. It is said, anecdotally, that it was found in the country among a job-lot of cutlery: be that as it may, after a prolonged and exacting appraisal I am 100% satisfied with it and think it to be a survivor of the greatest rarity. 'Unique' is a dangerous word to use, but it may be. I know of no other examples: see The Finial, Oct/Nov '02, page 12 and The Finial Dec/Jan '02/03, page 35 for photographs.

The spoon shows an understandable degree of wear, which I find entirely acceptable, and surface colour is good. The bowl-mark and date-letter on stem are clear, the latter undoubtedly for 1517 (see How, vol.III, p.51, where the mark on a paten are very well photographed). The makers mark, though worn or possibly poorly struck ab initio, is undoubtedly that of 'a heart' (see How, vol.III, p.50, where clearly shown on ball-knop spoons of 1516). This man was a known spoonmaker, as I have demonstrated in my 'London Silver Spoonmakers' examples of his work having been noted for 1499, 1516, 1524 and 1525. Positive identification of a device mark is nearly always tricky, but likely candidates are Robert Preston, fined 2 shillings in 1495 in respect of "vi slypped spoones worse than sterling viii penny weyte", or Robert Phillip whose name features repeatedly in the Goldsmiths Company books as a spoonmaker circa 1500. Robert Preston's apprentice in 1499 was the leading spoonmaker William Simpson: a further pointer, though not of course conclusive.

Leaving on one side popular finials such as maidenhead or lion sejants, which feature extensively in wills and inventories, or occasional oddities like Wodewoses, it is possible to identify a group that is probably heraldic in origin, also I believe that the falcon-finial falls within this group. The Royal Jewel house inventory of 1549 contained many spoons, both

gold and silver, including one "having a white Martlett in the top", another featuring "a ffawcon crowned" and a set of "xii silver spones with gilt columbines (doves) at the endes." These together with other finials such as "sicles" or "a deere's foote" may have been gifts to the King from courtiers whose crests they wore. A well-known heraldic finial is the squirrel on a spoon by John Edes of Exeter, circa 1595, which belonged to Andrian Gilbert (his family crest), and the owl finial on a set of six spoons, London 1506, belonging to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and originating from Hugh Oldham (Owldam), Bishop of Exeter 1504-1519. In writing of the Corpus spoons, which at one time included a set with 'pelicans' (the college crest), Timothy Wilson F.S.A commented that 'Tudor spoons with the finials formed as heraldic emblems are now extremely rare, but in the sixteenth century were relatively usual.' He refers to a Royal inventory of 1574 with spoons having "sickelles at thendes", and others with "Staffourde Klottes." A very late example (How, vol.1, pp 274-5) is the boar's head spoon of 1683, 'undoubtedly a family crest' which I had the satisfaction of holding some years ago.

The falcon-finial has the initial 'R' (and possibly another letter, now in decipherable) on the front base of its stem, which may pertain to its original owner. Be that as it may, a warm welcome is extended to this new and fascinating addition to the corpus of early Tudor spoons.


The Finial, February/March 2003

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