A Most Unusual Pair of Sugar Nips

By Dr David Shlosberg

During the course of my research into eighteenth century silver sugar nips, for a forthcoming book on the subject, I have come across a number of unusual examples. None, I believe, are quite as out of the ordinary as the pair illustrated and described below.

Even at first glance, these are clearly not a typical, London made, eighteenth century pair of nips. The finger rings (fig.2) are quite unlike the usual circular shape that most have, being ovoid and overlapping at the bases. They have unusual upper ring stops, with the facets set at an angle. The upper arms (fig.3) have an early form of straight turned column and the lower arms are a simple 'S' scroll with a flying scroll embellishment. There is an early small, shaped oval box hinge (fig.4) with plain un-engraved hinge plates.

    Fig.2                  Fig.3               Fig.4
The shaped upper shafts (fig.5), with the merest suggestion of C scrolls, lead to tapering lower shafts with moulding at the base. The grips (fig.6) are simple, elegant, hand raised scallop shells. They measure 12 cm in length; 4.5 cm across the finger rings and weigh 30.2 grams - the last measurement being in keeping with a good quality and gauge early pair of nips. The only mark is that of the maker (fig.7), punched inside one of the grips. It comprises the initials TS in an oval punch, with the S being pitched forward in a rather quirky, individualistic manner.

    Fig.5                    Fig.6                  Fig.7
The first thought, shared with a specialist dealer friend, was that the nips looked vaguely American; a trawl through Ensko produced a possible candidate as a maker - Thomas Shields of Philadelphia - even though working at around 1765, this was a little late for the style of this pair.

Further enquiries via a collector friend, who is a trustee at the Winterthur Museum, Delaware, where they have over 30 pieces of silver by this maker, showed the mark to be similar, but definitely not the same. The next thought was that this might be a provincial pair, so reference to Grimwade was made, for further assistance.

This search indicated that the mark could well be that of Thomas Spackman, entered on the 1st November 1725. He is stated to be working from Marlborough at the time and he is known to have died by October 1730. If, indeed, these were made by him, this allows dating of this pair to be made within a surprisingly accurate finite window of time. He was the son of Thomas Spackman, a grocer of Marlborough, Wiltshire and is recorded as having become apprenticed to William Swadling on 19th November 1690.

On 16th June 1696 he was turned over to his brother, John Spackman I - a well known maker of spoons -from whence he obtained his freedom on 17th May 1700. He progressed to the status of Liveryman in October 1708.

He entered his first two marks at Goldsmiths' Hall, as a large worker, on 25th May 1700, when he worked in Foster Lane. He subsequently entered a third mark on the 15th January 1707. These marks were, of course, for Britannia Standard silver and consisted of the first two initials of his surname, as was required by the Statute of William III, decreed in1696.

He is, by 1719, known to have become bankrupt and nothing is heard of him until he returned to his home in Marlborough, and entered his ultimate mark, as mentioned above, in 1725. Sadly, by October 1730 he was dead and his son, John Spackman II had to be apprenticed elsewhere - to Elizabeth Goodwin.

So it seems that what we have here is a pair of Provincial sugar nips, which we are able to ascertain, were made within a time frame of less than five years, and very probably in Marlborough. Although made in the provinces, this is a supremely elegant pair of nips, as might be expected coming from a goldsmith who had spent the major part of his working life in London. They would certainly seem to be unique, but who knows what may, some day, turn up in someone's hidden family treasures!

With thanks to Professor Richard Weiss and Mr Vic Bowman for their kind assistance in attribution.

Further information and comments to shlossy@aol.com, or to the Editor of The Finial, would be very welcome.


Preview - Bonhams, New Bond Street, July 2003

Selection of 18th century Irish silver

Bonhams have just taken in a private consignment of Irish silver, which will be sold in their July sale in New Bond Street, unfortunately due to going to press, I do not have details of the above pieces, but they will be reviewed in the next issue of The Finial.

For details and enquiries contact Loraine Turner at Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, London, W1S 1SR.

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The Finial, June/July 2003

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