Unusual Duty Head On Exeter Teaspoons

By Derek Fry

Richard Stagg wrote [1] of a variant of the Duty Head on two Old English teaspoons by Richard Ferris of Exeter. It is notable for the way in which the right hand side of the otherwise oval surround closely follows the profile of the King's head. The enlarged view in Figure 1 is produced from one of two similarly marked teaspoons in my possession. I cannot provide the evidence that he sought to confirm his surmise that it might signify the double duty introduced in July 1797 but I can offer the following comments on this unusual form of the Duty Mark and some related matters.

This distinctive Duty Head was first brought to members' attention by Mark Nevard [2] who also speculated that this might be a mark to denote payment of double duty as the following quotation shows. "Recalling the modifications to the duty stamp for London on the imposition of double duty from 5 July 1797. I wonder whether this could be for similar control purposes for the very short period in that year of 5 July to 7 August, when the new date letter was adopted yearly at the Exeter office? (Present author's emphasis). Given that no date letter was struck, the need to record which rate of tax had been paid would be particularly relevant." Mark did seek members' comments but apparently with no response as, when the two teaspoons about which he had written subsequently appeared in the Spoon Club Postal Auction (lots 1121 and 1122 in March 2000), it was said of them "To our knowledge no-one has come up with a suggested explanation for the unusual duty mark stamps."

I acquired one of those spoons from that auction and the other, being unsold; I obtained somewhat later direct from Mark. My spoons are Old English, they are bright-cut but with a different design from that on Richard's spoons and are initialled JWR in script decorated with stylised leaves. These are the spoons from which my illustrations are derived in which the following features are worthy of note.

Figure 2 shows the Maker's Mark 'WP' for William Pearce of Plymouth (according to Jackson3 pages 295 and 304 also spelt Pearse; Earliest Mention 1774; Latest Mention 1797). Figure 3 shows what Mark Nevard described as William Pearce overstamping Richard Ferris of Exeter (Jackson pages 295/6 and 305; Earliest Mention 1784; Latest Mention 1812). From close inspection of the 'R' with the 'W' apparently underlying it, I am inclined to think the overstriking may be the other way round i.e. 'RF' over 'WP'.

The Lion Passant on both my spoons shows a 'bar' from the lion's rump to near the top right corner of the punch as does the illustration of the marks on one of Richard Stagg's spoons. Colin Tictum4 depicts the three marks on a Richard Ferris teaspoon including the Sterling Lion showing this same feature but with the conventional Duty Head in the full oval cartouche. It is notable that in this respect these lions appear to be different from those in the two sets of full Exeter marks (I presume from larger spoons) provided by Tony Dove for Richard Stagg's Figs.3 and 4 showing the 'A' Date Letter but different Duty Heads, one with the oval surround and one in a 'trefoil' punch (More of this later). Furthermore, on Richard's, Colin's and my spoons one front paw seems to emerge from behind the lion's head and the punch is a plain rectangle while in the 'A' dated marks the one paw comes from behind the other and the mark has a wavy base. Although not clearly reproduced, the lion mark shown for 1778/79 with ditto marks through to 1796/97 (i.e. the Exeter 'y' year) in Jackson (page 295) could have one paw appearing from behind the lion's head; however, this surround has a wavy base.

Drawing together the points I have emphasised above: if, as Mark Nevard stated (and Jackson page 285 confirms), the Date Letter changed on August 7th at the Exeter office such that there were only 33 days of the 'y' year (1796/97) in which double duty was payable, then double duty would have been effective for the whole of the 'A' year (1797/98). How then does one account for a plain oval (single duty?) surround in Richard Stagg's Fig.3? Or, conversely, if 'A' defined a year throughout which the increased duty was payable, there was no need (as was recognised in London - Jackson pages 42/3 and 59) for the distinctive cusped surround.

It is also to be noted that Jackson page 296 only depicts a cusped Duty Head for year 'A' (1797/98) - again with ditto marks through to 'U' (1816/17) - and this mark has only two lobes and lacks the bottom indentation producing the 'trefoil' clearly evident in Richard Stagg's Fig.4.

The Lion Passant marks are evidence that, in addition to the absence of a Date Letter and the Exeter Town mark from at least some (I suspect all) small spoons about this time, different punches were used for large and small spoons. So, the unusual Duty Head could be the small spoon mark but could have been used only at the end of the 'y' year or on into the 'A' year and perhaps beyond that - although its apparent rarity with only four specimens so far might suggest the former.

It seems to me that the actual bust of this mark is somewhat different from those in Richard's Figs. 3 and 4, from that in Colin Tictum's book and from those shown for 'y' and 'A' years in Jackson. The hair appears more abundant and its contours more deeply delineated; the hair and ribbon at the nape of the neck seems more profuse; the top of the torso seems to project further to the right. My overall impression is of a rather differently shaped and broader and, perhaps, more squat bust but this could be a matter of rubbed marks and/or photographic reproduction - and, possibly, if the punch was made by grinding away the right side of the earlier duty punch, distortion of the actual bust during this process.

I fear that, rather than clarify any of the points raised by Richard (and earlier by Mark Nevard), my contribution has raised more questions but, hopefully, there are members who can cast some light on these matters. The apparent anomalies I have identified and the original suggestion concerning the purpose of this unusual Duty Head can only be clarified if more Exeter spoons - both large and small, fully marked and otherwise - can be found from the 'y', 'A' and immediately subsequent years. Perhaps members will scrutinise their collections to this effect.

I would welcome any relevant information or opinion that anyone can provide.

1. The Finial; Volume 13/04; February/March 2003; p6.
2. "Enigma";The Finial; Volume 10/02; October/November 1999; p 61.
3. Jackson's Silver & Gold Marks; Ed. Ian Pickford; Antique Collectors Club; 3rd revised edition; 1989
4. The Tictum Collection; The Tictum Charitable trust; 2001; p70.


.4. & .5.
The Finial, April/May 2003

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