Alexander Cameron of Dundee & The Newcastle Assay Office.

By: Edward Daw

Alexander Cameron sent work to Newcastle from the 25th April 1828 to the 8th November 1831 (Gill)1 - a simple statement, but one which on examination of articles from that time poses more questions than answers.

Guthrie2 reviewed the work of Alexander Cameron, an apprentice of Robert Keay of Perth, who then worked in Dundee from 1818 onwards.

Guthrie recorded the wide variation in Cameron's marks for Dundee work, also for work submitted to the Edinburgh and Newcastle Assay offices; and as a retailer of Edinburgh silver, London silver (usually by Wm. Thaies) and Birmingham electroplate (usually Elkington & Co.)

Gill recorded that Cameron had registered both his 'AC' and 'CAM over ERON' punches and as the date letter changes in May (or within a few weeks) this means that Cameron's marks are seen with the Newcastle date letters for 1828 ('N'), 1828-9 ('O'), 1829-30 ('P'), 1830-1 ('Q') and 1831 ('R').

Figures 1 to 4 illustrate all these, but note the order variations for 1828-29 and 1831!

Fig. 1Fig. 2

Questions that arise regarding Alexander Cameron:-
1. When was 'DUN over DEE' added to articles? The absence of this mark from both Newcastle (see Fig.1, top) and Edinburgh articles suggests that the mark was added on their return. Moreover, I would suggest that examination of the spacing between the four Newcastle punches (see Figs.2&3) would suggest that the Assay office had to squeeze them in between 'CAM over ERON' and 'DUN over DEE' already stamped.
2. Why did Cameron send articles to Newcastle, when he was sending articles to Edinburgh?2 The records show that Scottish provincial silversmiths were reluctant to deal with Edinburgh, in spite of several statues until the statute of 1836 compelling them, except for the 'conclave' around Glasgow.
Cameron's problem, may however, have been Logistical. Communications along the East Coast of Scotland and England was faster and more frequent by sea, than by road (and the Dundee/Edinburgh direct rail link was not completed for another 50 years, even the diversion via Perth was to come decades later).

Fig. 3Fig. 4

Questions that arise regarding the Newcastle Assay Office:-
1. Why are these variations/omissions in the order of marks? The Pickfords Jackson3 records the prescribed order of marks for various cycles. However, the date letter appears to be either before or after the four punches of the tables.
2. The leopards head crowned appears to be omitted from flatware. Pickford's Jackson records the order for 1815-1838 cycle (table VIII) as date letter; duty head; lion; three castles; leopard's head crowned. Sir Charles's Jackson4 had erroneously ascribed Cameron's work to 1805-6. Had he seen work like Figure 2 (bottom) Castles; lion; duty head; 'O'?
3. Table VII in Jackson's3 gives the 1805-6 order as lion; castles; leopards head crowned; duty head.
4. The order predominantly seen in Figures 1 to 4 (duty head; lion; castles; date letter) were not prescribed for the 1839-63 and 1864-1884 cycles (table IX and X)3 - but these were for Victoria!)

One explanation is that sets of punches from 1805/6 and 1807/8 were still around 25 years later - unlikely, and even so the order was still wrong (see above).

Another explanation is that Cameron bought old Newcastle plate and over struck it with his marks (On the basis that has 'AC' is frequently seen with Edinburgh marks, over stamping the maker's mark). However this doesn't seem to apply to the Cameron (CAM over ERON) mark, there is no evidence of over striking on the pieces seen, and it doesn't explain the spacing of the Newcastle marks to fit in between CAM over ERON and DUN over DEE. Besides which, the mark order is still wrong!!

Perhaps further research will solve the problems!

1. Gill, Mgt; Directory of Newcastle Goldsmiths, 1980, pages 72-73.
2. Guthrie, Wm; Dundee Silver 1750-1850; 1994 pages 27-51.
3. Revised Jackson's, 1994. Edited by Ian Pickford, page 495.
4. Jackson's, 1904 by Sir Charles Jackson, pages 365 & 541.


The Finial, February/March 2003

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