A Variation in the Duty Head

By Richard Stagg

I have recently bought a pair of Old English bright-cut teaspoons made by Richard Ferris of Exeter (Fig.1). These are part marked with maker's mark, lion passant and duty mark only, but have a variation of the duty mark that I have not seen before.


As can be seen in the illustration (Fig.2) the duty head has been profiled in a remarkable way. It looks as though an oval duty punch has been ground away along the profile of the king's face in order to make a clear variation from the regular oval shape introduced in 1786. This is obviously not just a miss striking, as both spoons show similar clearly struck marks.


The question is why this variation should occur. Unfortunately, these spoons lack a date stamp so we can only speculate as to when they were made. Could it be that this profiling of the king's face was Exeter's answer to the problem posed in 1797 when the duty was doubled and the assay office needed to know how much tax had been paid on each individual item in case it had to pay a refund? We are all aware of the practice of double duty head marking used at Birmingham, Sheffield, and to a lesser degree at Newcastle and York. We also think that Chester changed the starting date for its year stamp to coincide with the introduction of the new rate of duty, (Maurice Ridgeway - Chester Silver 1727 - 1837). It is deducible from knowledge of what happened in Edinburgh in 1815 that similar action was taken there in 1797. So what then happened at Exeter?

Some sort of answer at any rate might come from a study of fully marked pieces with the "y" for 1796/7 or maybe the "A" for the following year. Tony Dove has kindly helped with background information and has produced some of the answers by providing illustrations of two spoons with the "A" for 1797/8 (Figs 3 & 4), one of which has the oval head and one which has the trefoil head. He has also shown me pictures of "y" marked spoons which all have just the oval head.

It is my surmise that the variation shown in Fig 2 is in fact Exeter's answer to the problem of what to do whilst waiting for the new shape of punch to arrive from London. However, confirmation can only come from sight of a fully marked piece. So if any members have pieces with such marks please let The Finial know as it would nice to be able to clear up this little mystery.


The Finial, February/March 2003

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