Via Lambeth To Exeter

By David Whitbread

Making sense of marks has never been one of my strengths and when I look through my collection I find I have been guilty of some pretty eccentric attributions which I ought to try and put right before anyone else sees them. My only consolation is that as many misattributions have come from dealers who should have known better. I ought to have learnt early on not to take on trust what I was told about any spoon I was thinking of buying. I remember very early in my collecting career looking at an item ticketed as by Hannah Barlow, not a name you will recognise as a spoonmaker since she was an artist whose initials are to be found on pots she decorated for the Doulton Lambeth pottery. The dealer selling the item had confused her HBs and meant to say Hester Bateman. But that was not all. Only the 'H' of the maker's mark survived, not unlike Hester's except that it was probably the second rather than the first initial. And the date letter was for 1800, too late for Hester. We can all make mistakes, but dealers should really avoid that sort of carelessness, though on this occasion it did at least allow me to feel a little smug at spotting the series of errors despite being unable to suggest the right maker's name.

Of course, more knowledgeable specialist dealers are unlikely to be as misleading, but recently looking at a few spoons I got many years ago I found what seems to me an odd attribution which, to the best of my recollection, came from a specialist dealer who is still around and a spoon club member. Maybe it was in his early days too. I have a group of three teaspoons (illustrated) from around the end of the 18th century, bright cut Old English with shoulders, acquired separately and all with RF as the maker's mark. Two are down as Richard Ferris of Exeter but the third, on the authority of the dealer in question was noted as by Richard Foster of London. So sketchy was my record keeping in those days, as well as my knowledge of marks, that I do not now know which of the three was supposed to be by Foster, and I assume all three are actually Exeter and Ferris. Or am I now revealing my own inability to read the variations in the duty and lion passant marks, and is one of the spoons from a different locality and by a different maker from the others? The spoons do vary in quality of decoration and design.

I recall that I got these spoons because, having failed to find an example of Old English with shoulders when I particularly wanted a single specimen, I went on to buy nearly every example, plain or decorated, that I came across for a little while. Not perhaps the most sensible approach, but what I find interesting now is that in the resultant sample of 18 London and provincial spoons of various sizes, ranging in date from 1767 to 1825, I have ended up with three apparently by the same maker, suggesting that the pattern may have been something of a local speciality since no other maker occurs more than once.

From much the same time in my collecting career I have a pair of bright cut Old English teaspoons of similar date to the Ferris ones but in this case I have not a clue as to what led me to get them. Perhaps I thought it would be interesting to have an example of relatively crudely made provincial spoons, or perhaps they were just cheap, but most likely they were all I could find after trudging round some antiques fair in the mood to buy. They are recorded as being by Francis Parsons of Exeter which I am in no position to dispute and which must have come from the vendor since my reference books do not record his mark. I don't believe I owned a copy of Jackson at the time but even if I did, I know I would not have ploughed through the list of makers to find one of the right period with the right initials. The vendor must have known enough to arrive at this attribution but strangely did not draw attention to what I later realised and now find interesting about these spoons. Did he not realise, or did he fear that it would make them less saleable? Their apparent crudity is because they are re-worked spoons and one (illustrated) even retains the traces of its earlier bottom marking including the hindquarters of a London lion passant of the 1739-1755 period. Surviving detail from the original form of the spoons such as differences between the drops reveals that they did not start life as a pair.

Re-worked spoons are not uncommon and, though I guess most collectors would avoid them, this is an aspect of the history of the spoon that is not without its own interest. Re-working was sometimes associated with a repair, sometimes a matter of adapting to a more fashionable shape (e.g. Hanoverian to Old English) and sometimes involved adaptation to anew use (e.g. when a bowl is pierced or turned into a shovel). And then there will be the more fraudulent recent re-working designed to make a spoon more valuable by giving it a rarer or older form. In most of the examples of older re-working I have seen it is not accompanied by re-marking. Indeed, care often seems to have been taken to preserve the original marks. What I find interesting about the pair in question is that the spoons were quite properly submitted for assay after the re-working, so we have a silversmith who in this case, rather than making his own spoons for sale from scratch, legitimately re-shaped old ones to a matching pattern. I do not re-call seeing other examples where this has so clearly happened (though The Finial has from time to time featured spoons that have had Onslow terminals added and separately marked at a later date) and I wonder how unusual it is.


.14. / .15.
The Finial, August/September 2003

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