Spoonmakers' Sources of Supply - A Review

By Tim Kent F.S.A.


In my 'West Country Silver Spoons and Their Makers' I discussed (pages 27- 33) the sources from which provincial goldsmiths, in particular spoon makers, obtained their raw material.

On page 32 I made reference to the trading of foreign coin by goldsmiths in the West Country, and suggested that such coin could well have been used for purposes of manufacture. Recently this suggestion has been questioned on the ground that foreign coin would not have been sufficiently close to the sterling standard. Accordingly I have looked further into the matter and re-examined my archive material. In particular I have compared the price at which coin traded and the figures placed on spoons and other silver items in inventories.

There is ample evidence. The inventory of William Horwood (1613/14), a prosperous Exeter goldsmith, discloses 64ozs of 'Spanish money' at 4s 11d per ounce, compared with 'Ffyve silver bolles, one silver salt, 15 silver spoones', just over 49 ounces in total at 5s 2d per ounce 105 ounces of broken silver and spoones at 4s 4d per ounce, and "burnt silver' at 4s 2d per ounce.

Fig. 1

The diary of John Hayne, Exeter clothier, (East Devon Record Office), which covers the period 1631-1643, is another source of primary importance. For the 15th March 1638/9 he records a sale to 'Mr Harman ye goldesmith' (Ralph Herman, active from circa 1615, died 1661, Mayor 1652) of 467ozs of 'Portugal Testons' at just over 4s 11d per ounce. Figure 1 shows Herman's full name mark, typically west- country.

The inventory of Robert Michell, goldsmith of Marlborough (1616), allowed 4s 8d per ounce for 'broken silver', and in 1684 Oliver Arden of Sherborne died in possession of '31 silver spoones, 4s 10d per oz'.

The Barnstaple Borough records for 1652 record the receipt 'in Portingall monies, French monies, and Spanish monies, as Mr Seldon assaied it, 53ozs 3dwts, 12-16-0,' i.e. round about the figure mentioned above for Horwood and Herman.

The above evidence supports a conclusion that foreign silver coin was of a satisfactory standard and well capable of use by local goldsmiths for purposes of manufacture, bearing in mind that precise sterling observance was not one of their priorities.

Fig. 2

I remain strongly convinced of the likelihood that the marks used by the Peard family, goldsmiths of Barnstaple, namely a fleur-de-lis (for France) and a lion rampant (for Spain) refer to the use of foreign coin in manufacture, principally of spoons but of other objects also (see fig.2 for marks on a bleeding bowl dated 1678.) There is no absolute proof of this, but it is a powerful inference.

It is evident that a very important source of supply lay in second-hand silver acquired for re-use. Sometimes the articles acquired were melted, and sometimes (particularly with spoons) re-sold with fresh pricked initials. The original marks might well be erased or overstruck, this could happen to London-made spoons sold second-hand in the country, and a London Seal-top could well end up with a Salisbury Apostle at a somewhat later 17th century date.

In this area, John Hayne's diary is once again a mine of information. He records that on 1st June 1635 he did a swap deal with the Exeter goldsmith William Bartlett, trading in two silver 'bowles' i.e. wine cups or goblets, and receiving in exchange two 'lesser bowles', one tankard and a sugar dish and a spoon, all of which weighed 13ozs more than 'my two bowles'. For the latter Bartlett allowed 5/4 per ounce, and charged 5/8 or 5/9 per ounce for the new pieces. The deal cost Hayne £4-2-9, he records, and he goes on to mention hallmarks, a rare piece of observation for this date; in his possession were 'two tankards of plain silver…..one of them marked with an 'r' in a scutcheon which shows it was made in London this yeare (1634)…the other with a 'q' which was made last yeare (1633).' The new 'bowles' were also marked for 1633. So we can deduce (i) that Bartlett received old plate to re-use, probably melting it, (ii) that he retailed London-made articles. Probably the spoon was of his own making: he was a prolific spoon maker.

On 23rd January 1636/7, Hayne 'paid Mr Jasp. Radcliffe (another Exeter goldsmith) for ye exchange of 12 olde spoones with gilt heades (i.e. Seal tops), for 12 newe of his making without heads (Slip-tops)', the sum of £1-4-0, representing an extra 2ozs 16dwts at 5/8 per ounce. Radcliffe was therefore left with a dozen Seal-tops for re-sale, which he may well have done rather than melt, as such spoons were still popular.

These transactions must have been typical, and represented a prominent source of trade supply. To this must be added regular purchases of second-hand silver from sundry sources, e.g. executors winding up estates, and items bought over the counter. The evidence shows that a local goldsmith would allow more for a 'trade-in' than for an ordinary purchase, in the latter case hoping to buy more cheaply without sending the vendor elsewhere. The 1633 search found George Batter of Salisbury in possession of a spoon made by Thomas Senior of the same city 'and Batter affirmeth that hee bought the said spoone of one Owdall of Fisherton and paid 4s 4d the ounce for the same.'

Fig. 3

Thomas Cory of Warminster used an 'S' over 'V' mark (fig. 3, on a tumbler cup dated 1669), which can be regarded as a guarantee of 5/- per ounce for the metal, while not far away at Devizes Ralph Good I, went one better and certified his silver at 5/2, this mark being noted on his spoons.

From quite an early date, silver for manufacture would have been available in ingot form, probably to be obtained from a merchant who dealt in bullion at some major commercial centre such as Bristol. An entry in the London Goldsmiths' Company Court Minute Book for 8th March 1564 relates to a 'suspicious ingot' of silver with which Thomas Kynge, goldsmith of Rye 'both honest and wealthy and of good reputation' was involved. In Cornwall the Newham Smelting accounts for 1704 record "Cash received from Mr Perryman of Falmouth for 95ozs 13dwts fine silver'. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries much silver in ingot form would have been brought from the New World in French or Spanish ships and often captured in transit by British warships or privateers.

Fig. 4

We still know little about the way the goldsmith's trade functioned, but new facts are being zealously dug out of the archives. As far as spoons are concerned, it is clear that a number of major manufacturers in certain centres supplied retailers over a wide area. The 1633 search found Ralph Williams of Winchester in possession of 20 headed spoons, 10 Apostles and one 'papp slip spoone' but all had been made by Robert Tyte of Salisbury, Williams being merely the retailer. Similarly a west-country spoonmaker might well make the bodies of spoons, but go to a leading manufacturer in Salisbury, Taunton, Sherborne, Bath or Bristol for his finials. The availability of such supplies would have been known to the trade. Figure 4 shows 5 Seal-tops of the 1630's, all with typical Salisbury Group 'A' castings, the first four from left bearing the marks of active Salisbury makers (Robert Tyte, Thomas Senior, Robert Tyte, Thomas Thornborough), but the fifth, on the extreme right, marked for Anthony Arden II of Sherborne, who evidently obtained his casting from a Salisbury workshop. Figure 5 shows five further Seal-tops with Salisbury Group 'B' seals, for slightly less expensive spoons, the first three from left with marks of George Batter, John Greene, and Ambrose Smith (all of Salisbury), the remaining two marked by John Smith of Wells (brother of Ambrose), and William Ring of Shaftesbury, who may have been apprenticed to John Greene. Current evidence suggests that Salisbury finials found their way to such far-removed places as Barnstaple, Bath and even Lewes, and conversely an early Charles II spoon by William Ring of Shaftesbury has been noted with a casting from the Reeve workshop in Bath. Family relationships tended to provide a network: the Ardens of Sherborne, Crewkerne, and Dorchester were related to the Mustons of Exeter and Plymouth, while there were family links between the Cokers of Dorchester and the Coopers of Bristol, all known spoon makers.

Fig. 5

I have left until the end a further source of supply, namely locally mined silver, because only at certain periods was this significant. The records show that towards the end of the 13th century appreciable quantities were being produced by mines at Combe Martin in North Devon, and those at Bere Ferrers and Bere Alston in South Devon. In 1294 the latter sent 370 lbs of silver to London: miners were imported from the Peak District and from Wales, and as late as the mid-15th century as much as 4,000 ounces per annum was being produced. The Combe Martin mine also flourished, but by about 1490 was described as 'almost worn out'. In 1587 a rich new vein was discovered by Adrian Gilbert (brother of Sir Humphrey) which with the help of the mining expert Bevis Bulmer was soon producing £4,000 worth per annum before running out. Even in the last phase £1,000 worth was being extracted, and we can well infer that some of the metal was acquired by leading local spoon-makers such as Thomas Mathew of Barnstaple and John Edes of Exeter. It is a reasonable inference that the magnificent squirrel finial spoon made by Edes for Adrian Gilbert (part of a set), and dated 1596, involved use of Gilbert's own metal (Fig. 6). It is inscribed with monogram AG, the words 'Devon 1596' and, on back of bowl, the Gilbert arms, the squirrel of course being his family crest (Exeter Museum). In addition to spoons it is recorded that Peter Quick I of Barnstaple, provided at Bulmer's expense two 'rich and fair standing cups' for presentation to the Lord Mayor of London and the Earl of Bath, whose seat of Tawstock was adjacent to Barnstaple.

Fig. 6

Silver was also mined in the Mendips, and an unmarked wine cup, circa 1600, is engraved, 'From Mendep I was brought, out of a Leden mine, in brstoll I was wrought, and now am silver fine' (Bristol Museum). Later mining, during the Civil War and afterwards, produced silver for coinage, and possibly local goldsmiths such as Samuel Cawley I acquired some of it for spoonmaking. A set of four candlesticks by Joseph Bird, London 1698, is engraved 'Bere Alston', so perhaps local spoonmakers such as John Murch of Plymouth also tapped this source.

The above represents an outline of the present state of knowledge: more research must follow.

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The Finial, October/November 2003


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