William Darby 'PATENT' Teaspoons
A Progress Report

By Derek Fry


Thanks mainly to The Silver Spoon Club members, I now know the whereabouts of 24 William Darby "PATENT" teaspoons, assuming that none have changed hands recently and the existence but not the whereabouts of one more. Being cognisant of Walter Brown's concern for security[1], I will not name those who have provided me with information about the spoons in their possession - they will know who they are and my sincere thanks to them for their contributions to my researches. While the ownership of some of these spoons is in the public domain - for example my own specimen that I described in my earlier piece[2] on this subject which prompted me to consider trying to compile a catalogue of all known examples - again for reasons of security, I will treat them all as being in 'private collections' both here and in any such catalogue that I may eventually compile.

In addition to ownership I also have some further information about some of these spoons which is included in the following listing:-

6 spoons in a 'set' bearing the same initial and all bright cut but one spoon being a little shorter than the rest and having a slightly different but similar bright cut design.

3 spoons with a totally different bright cut design to the edge only.

3 specimens in a museum collection - a pair bright cut and, possibly, of yet another design, and the third plain and somewhat lighter than others for which I have been given length and/or weight, 11.1g c.f. 14-16g. (see also * below).

4 individual specimens but two or more of them may be matched - I have no detail because the owner keeps them in a Bank and could not recollect details at the time of contacting me.

1 single example - plain and one of the two that have appeared in Spoon Club Auctions.

1 single example - plain and smaller* (11.3g) than the other spoons for which I have relevant data..

1 single specimen - bright cut but the pattern being described as 'rather crude' and consisting of "a single wrigglework strip …and then a diamond and an oval again in a single wrigglework strip".

2 spoons that appeared in the sale of the Martin Gubbins collection - one plain and the other bright cut but whether or not this is of the same design as any of the other bright cut specimens mentioned above I do not know.

2 spoons constituting a matched pair with an elaborately engraved initial S but otherwise plain.

1 specimen - plain apart from an initial below the assay, maker's and 'PATENT' marks. This spoon almost certainly I am reliably informed by a well know authority on Silver Flatware (again through the co-operation of a Club member) has been turned from Old English to Hanovarian style possibly quite shortly after manufacture as this was, I understand, a common and quite skilfully executed practice at that time. I believe all the other teaspoons I have listed are Old English. This spoon was offered on an auction website a few months ago but failed to meet its reserve. It was there described, as Hanovarian and the associated pictures certainly appeared to confirm this; however the owner has recently suggested to me that it is not Hanovarian in style! I am currently trying to resolve this question.

This last spoon was also, the owner tells me, one of a pair but he could not afford both. If they were a true matching pair it seems a pity that they have been separated. It was sold by a couple, who were retiring from the antique fair business. I have not been able to track them down to trace the owner of the second of these spoons but it does constitute another spoon - possibly turned to Hanoverian style - known to be in existence (making a known total of 25). Similarly I have not been able to trace the spoon that was lot 415 in the 1997 July Postal Auction. Of course it may be one of the spoons listed above so I cannot at present count it as a further addition to the number of known examples. If whoever bought that spoon in the auction (hopefully still a Club member) could provide me with information to help me trace its present ownership I would be most grateful.

All the spoons for which I have the data bear the crowned lower case 'y' for Sheffield 1785/86 but on 2 of these (for which I have access to pictures albeit none to clear) the Duty Head is not obviously the incuse mark for that year! They may be incuse but the inset detail of the marks is so rubbed or otherwise distorted as to be very difficult to equate with any portions of the design in the quite clear Duty Head on my own spoon. Furthermore, in one case the edges of the mark are so worn that one cannot be sure it is the corner clipped rectangle that it should be. Closer, clearer photographs of the marks or direct examination would be necessary to resolve this.

To complete the picture I am also aware of but do not know the whereabouts of two tablespoons and a pair of tea tongs bearing the William Darby 'PATENT' marks. The tea tongs were lot 384 in the 1997 March Spoon Club Auction and again, if the purchaser is still a member of our Club, I would appreciate information that might lead me to the current ownership of those tongs. I also know of a pair of tongs in Sheffield plate bearing the William Darby initials and 'PATENT' mark. I presume, on the ground that the collectors from whom I have obtained the information would know the difference, that all the examples I have listed above are solid silver. However, this latter finding raises the question of how much and what forms of plate flatware Darby produced with his 'PATENT' mark on it.

I am uncertain how to further my researches with a view to cataloguing the known examples of Darby's "PATENT" flatware. I would of course like to hear of any other specimens that members know about - solid silver or plate. What I need to know are more details of all the known spoons - plain or bright cut; initialled or not; length & weight (preferably in metric units); length and any other relevant detail of the drop; and, possibly, dimensions of the bowl (length, maximum width and distance of this maximum from the tip of the bowl). Similarly details of the stem (width & thickness at narrowest point, whether front & back edges are rounded or square, if the faces are rounded or flat) and, for the stem end, maximum width and dimensions of any pip and rib. Such information would enable me to determine how many different sizes and types of die Darby used for teaspoons. Ideally I would like digital images of the front and back of the whole spoon and close ups of the drop, the marks and any initials, or bright cut design. It is perhaps too much to hope that all owners of these spoons could provide such images themselves but, perhaps, they could find someone with an appropriate camera with a really good macro (close up) facility and the expertise to take such photographs at moderately high resolution for maximum clarity in enlargements and then put them onto floppy discs or CD (as JPEG image files for the technically minded) or, possibly, e-mail them to me as JPEG images. (If any member would like Michael to photograph their Derby Patent spoon either bring or send it in to Burlington Arcade - Ed).

I shall be happy to provide my address and/or e-mail address to anyone who is willing to help in this way. Once again my thanks to those who have already done so.

References:1. The Finial: Volume 13/03 December January 2002/3; page 11. 2. The Finial: Volume 13?02 October/November 2002; page 16.

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The Finial, August/September 2003

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