Mote Spoons by James Wilks

By Daniel Bexfield & Nicholas Buxton

In Grimwade[1] there are two possibilities for James Wilks's apprenticeship:
1. He was the son of shoemaker Thomas Wilkes of Charterhouse Lane in the county of Middlesex, apprenticed to Andrew Archer (largeworker) on 10th October 1711 for eight years and became free on 4th July 1720.
2. Or he was the son of a gentleman John Wilkes in the parish of St. Andrew's, Holborn, apprenticed to Thomas Colvil (smallworker) on 15th August 1715 on payment of 22 and became free on 6th September 1722.

Fig. 1Fig. 2Fig. 3

What we do know is that James Wilks entered his first marks 'WI' [new standard] & 'IW' [sterling] (fig.1) on 31st December 1722 as a largeworker at Golden Lane. We feel that the first option is the correct attribution and our reasoning for this 1). Is that Andrew Archer became free in 1699 whereas Thomas Colvil became free in 1712 and therefore Archer would have been the more experienced silversmith, if you were to choose one for your apprenticeship; 2). Archer is listed as a largeworker whereas Colvil is listed as a smallworker, which makes more sense why Wilks would have registered as a largeworker; 3). It could also be logical, if Wilks had become free in 1720 and not 1722 that he was not financially ready to start up his own business and therefore worked for two and half years as a worker/journeyman for another silversmith, where he possibly learnt piercing! 4) Andrew Archer was a prolific spoon maker as was Wilks, we have not come across spoons by Colvil.

Of course this is just an opinion, but what would be good and perhaps strengthen this view, is if we can find some mote spoons by either Archer or Colvil, and then possibly, we will be able to see a characteristic that has followed on from the apprenticeship. So do any members have such a spoon?

This collection of ten James Wilks's mote spoons shows that throughout his career he was making them from c.1722 to c.1760 and furthermore we can see the changes in fashions of the day. Starting with the earliest, figure 4, the rattail, circa 1722 marked 'IW' with a lion passant (fig.1), has spacious piercing of slats, scrolls and a closed fleur-de-lys and is initialled 'E.B' on the back of the elongated bowl. Incidentally this is the only spoon, from the collection, that was sent to the Assay Office as it has the lion passant, whereas the others are duty dodgers. Possibly this was one of his earliest made pieces as a registered silversmith, and felt he should be honest by sending it to be assayed, clearly this attitude changed!

Fig. 4 Fig. 5 Fig. 6 Fig. 7 Fig. 8

Figure 5, circa 1730 marked 'IW', has adopted an attached shell back but still with quite spacious piercing with slats, scrolls, four mushrooms and now the familiar open fleur-de-lys at the tip of the bowl.

Figure 6, circa 1732 marked 'IW' twice, is a small-shell back and has lost the slats but has two mushrooms, scrolls and a fleur-de-lys. This spoon is the longest at 15.1cm and has three initials 'F' over 'RS' engraved on the back of the bowl.

Figure 7, circa 1735 marked 'IW' twice, has the same shell as figure 6 and is only pierced with scrolls and a fleur-de-lys, engraved 'E' on the back of the bowl and has the largest spike.

Figure 8, circa 1739 marked with gothic 'IW' (fig.2), is a rare miniature mote spoon, however it has the same shell as figures 6 & 7, with scrolls, fleur-de-lys and for the first time we see crosslet piercing. This maker's mark was entered on 20th June 1739.

Fig. 9 Fig. 10 Fig. 11 Fig. 12 Fig. 13

Figure 9, circa 1742 marked 'I:W' script (fig.3) twice, still has the same shell as the previous three spoons but has the addition of a flower above, pierced with nine crosslets, fleur-de-lys and scrolls. This mark was entered on 16th July 1742.

Figure 10, circa 1745 marked 'I:W' script twice, is following the fashion of the Rococo, with a rococo shell & scroll, pierced with crosslets, scrolls and a fleur-de-lys with down turned arms.

Figure 11, circa 1750 marked 'I:W' script twice, with a large-shell back with almost identical piercing as that of figure 7.

Figure 12, circa 1750 marked 'I:W' script twice, has the same shell and similar piercing as the previous lot, except that Wilks has reintroduced the mushrooms.

Figure13, circa 1760, 'I:W' script twice, has a long drop, crosslets, scrolls, mushrooms, and a fleur-de-lys. The piercing on this one seems to be of a slightly lesser quality, maybe an apprentice pierced it or he was getting fed up with making mote spoons!

In conclusion it is clear that Wilks must have liked the shell-backs and that he had a lifetime of making teaspoons, as mote spoons are surely just a very tiny percentage of spoon manufacturing. It would be marvellous to find a 'WI' marked mote spoon, to have all his marks, which would finish off the collection.

1. London Goldsmiths 1697-1837 by Arthur G. Grimwade, p.702.


.14. / .15.
The Finial, December/January/February 2003/04

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