The 'Beaver' Mark

By Mike Burrows

From time to time mention of a Beaver appearing in silver marks has cropped up in The Finial.

Not only has the beaver been used in the mark of some Canadian silversmiths it was also used by Tiffany's on wares manufactured in connection with the 1901 Pan- American Exposition in Buffalo. Whilst Tiffany's have given the collector something desirable to look out for, there is an instance where the presence of a beaver, crown and letter imitating a Sheffield hallmark stub is bad news for the silver flatware collector.

Some years ago, one of the magazines on antiques ran a column entitled 'The Inquiring Collector'. In the early 1950's a reader from the Isle of Lewis requested help in identifying the makers of a set of spoons and forks, which had been purchased in Glasgow.

The marks given were, spoons: 'J.S & S', a letter 'A', a crown and an animal passant, with the comment "... does not in the least look like a lion, even a well-worn lion". The forks marked L. Bros. In answer it was thought the spoons were by J Sanderson & Sons and the forks by Lockwood Bros.

As far as the spoons were concerned this attribution is doubtful. They may have been plated and not silver at all. An illustration of a plater's mark to fit the bill can be found in Bradbury1, page 440. Taken from an electroplated German silver chalice, it depicts in the following order - maker's mark, J.S/& S in shield, Beaver, the letter 'A' and a crown. The letter, a black letter capital 'A', was similar to that used by the Sheffield Assay Office, Cycle I, 1779-80.

Bradbury was of the opinion that this set of marks possibly originated from the workshop of Sheffield manufacturers J. Smith & Son. A view not shared, albeit many years later, by George Mappin2. In his comprehensively illustrated publication, on page 76, he shows a similar mark, but with the letter 'B'. Again, as Sheffield Assay Office Cycle I for 1783/4. This mark he places at the door of Birmingham plater, John Sherwood & Sons. Starting around 1858, with William and George Sherrif Sherwood as directors, the company could be found in Litchfield Street. This was their address when, in 1870, they registered their silver mark, J S/& S in shield at Sheffield Assay Office. The same mark, with or without pellet, had previously been registered at Birmingham Assay Office in 1858. The following year the partnership broke up and with William now at the helm, along with other Sherwoods, the company expanded so much that by 1886 it relocated to Regent Works, Regent Street.

There can be very little doubt that Sherwood's wanted their plate-mark to look very similar to a Sheffield Assay mark. A practice in which they were certainly not alone. Of 17 Sheffield platers using a crown in one form or another no less than 13 had registered a silver mark at the Sheffield Assay Office. Platers in Birmingham must have thought the crown carried a marketing message too. Of the 15 platers having a crown as part of their plate mark only one had not found it necessary to register a silver mark at an assay office.

Bradbury deemed it odd that the guardians of the Sheffield Assay Office let the practice of using a crown go on for such a long while. One of the reasons that it was allowed to continue might have been that most of the companies involved were not small fry. Their owners or partners being very influential in the silver and electroplating trade. At one time even Thomas Bradbury carried a crown as part of their plate mark. It was not until the end of the 1890's that the crown disappeared from electroplater's marks.

To go back to Sherwoods, just how many versions there were of their plate mark is difficult to say. So far there are those published by Bradbury and Mappin plus another on an electroplated fiddle pattern dessert fork. This item sports a letter 'A', but this time similar to a Sheffield Assay Office Cycle II for 1806/7.

1. Bradbury, Frederick; "History of Old Sheffield Plate" 1st published 1912, Reprinted by Northend, 1968.
2. Mappin, Goerge; "Electroplated Nickel Silver Old Sheffield Marks from 1784", Published by Foulsham 1999.


English Duty Marks on Foreign Silver

A post-script by Anthony Dove F.R.S.A.

The close-up photographs shown here illustrate well the similarity of the British duty head (on the left) and that on the American spoon by Johnson and Reat described in last month's FINIAL. The curiously shaped outline of the punch is totally unlike any known variation of the English and Scottish duty heads or indeed any other pseudo mark. Any suggestions as to why would be most welcome. (See Lot 52, in this issue's Postal Auction, a different 'American' duty head. Ed.)

I would like to thank Simon Moore for the photography.


.16. / .17.
The Finial, June/July 2003

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