Two Sizes of Small William Darby "PATENT" Spoons

By Derek Fry

I recently acquired my second William Darby "PATENT" teaspoon, which differs, considerably from my first specimen. The table compares these two spoons in terms of various features and measurements - however, these do not adequately delineate the differences in bowl and stem shape such that pictures will always be necessary to give a complete description. Figure 1, in which the longer spoon is my recent acquisition, shows these differences. This would seem to confirm and illustrate my earlier suggestion[1] that Darby used at least two sets of dies for smaller spoons. I suggest these might be designated "Type 1" for the form of the larger spoon (of which there seem to be more extant examples) and "Type 2" for the smaller one primarily on the basis of length and bowl shape. Some measures in Table 1 have to be approximate because the location of one end of these dimensions is a matter of judgement - for example, to what point at the stem end does one measure the bowl length? I have tried to judge how the curve of the bowl rim would continue to complete the blunt end of the egg shape.

Weight17.2 g10.9 g
Length Overall 133.5 mm 119.0 mm
Bowl Length (Approx.)39.0 mm37.5 mm
Bowl Maximum Width27.0 mm23.0 mm
Bowl Maximum Depth (External) 9.0 mm6.0 mm
Single Drop Length (Approx.)16.0 mm13.0 mm
Single Drop Width (At middle of length)6.0 mm4.5 mm
Stem Width (At narrowest point)3.8 mm3.0 mm
Stem Thickness (At narrowest point)2.8 mm2.0 mm
Stem Face - BackFlatFlat
Stem Face - FrontFlatRounded
Stem Top Maximum Width12.0 mm12.0 mm
Rib Length (From stem top - Approx.)4.0 mm7.0 mm

If members would measure their William Darby spoons (plain or bright cut) and examine them for the features that distinguish my spoons we could determine the extent of any variation within these two types or even sufficient deviations to constitute further "Types".

Fig. 1

I am willing to collate this information preferably with pictures (overall and close up of distinctive features and the marks) as well as measurements. My phone number appears at the end of this article so that I can be contacted in this context.

What variants might we expect to find? The Darby Patent (reproduced by Ian Pickford[2]) refers to mechanical stamping of both fully formed spoons and "blanks" formed on one side only (presumably the back to include the drop and the pip & rib) and flat on the other with bowls to be raised in a separate process. It may not be possible to determine by which of these methods a spoon was made but the rounded stem front of my Type 2 spoon might suggest it was formed in one operation i.e. between two shaped dies. The drop is a little offset to one side so any similar small spoons showing this feature would confirm this. One imagines that forming the spoon in one operation might result in less variation between spoons - however, one would not expect complete uniformity as finishing and wear would produce minor differences. Spoons made by the alternative "flat" die method might be expected to show greater variation or even the use of distinctly different punches to raise the bowls. They would presumably retain a flat front face on the stem although this feature would not be conclusive evidence of manufacture by this method. Interestingly I am aware of a specimen, which has the lower part of the stem back rounded. This would suggest the use of yet another die for teaspoon backs.

On all the "PATENT" spoons for which I have seen a date letter it is the crowned "y" for small articles 1785/86. (See Jackson[3]). I cannot find what time of year the date letter changed at the Sheffield office but, if Darby's patent was granted in December 1785, there would seem to have been a considerable output of machine stamped spoons in whatever part of the "y" year remained. Has anyone seen a specimen marked for the next year 1786/87 (crowned lower case Gothic "k")?

For the record three more "PATENT" teaspoons have come to my attention since writing the Progress Report[4] on my researches: they are - my latest acquisition, another plain spoon owned by a member (of which Daniel kindly took pictures for me) and one with somewhat rubbed feather edge decoration that was in the Woolly and Wallis Auction in October 2003. (I do hope a member bought the latter and that they will supply me with full details.) Therefore, the total number of small William Darby spoons of which I have heard of, is now 28. The owner of the spoon turned to Hanovarian style which I mentioned in that Progress Report has since acquired the other of the pair and tells me the dealer from whom he obtained them claims to have had a set of 5 at one time. Thus, there could be 3 more small "PATENT" spoons somewhere.

1. Fry. D; William Darby "PATENT" Teaspoons"; The Finial; Volume 13/02 Oct./Nov. 2002.
2. Pickford. I; Silver Flatware; Antique Collectors' Club; 1983.
3. Pickford. I (Ed); Jackson's Silver & Gold Marks; Antique Collectors' Club; 3rd Edit. 1989.
4. Fry. D; William Darby "PATENT" Teaspoon - A Progress Report; The Finial; Volume 14/01; Aug./Sept. 2003.


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The Finial, December/January/February 2003/04

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