An Interesting Cast Dessert Spoon

By Richard W Turner

Fig. 1

A few years ago in Portobello Road, I was fortunate enough to arrive at the Red Lion at the same time as Martin Gubbins. Together we descended upon the best silver stand there.

On that particular day, the stallholder had an unusual, and very decorative, set of ten cast dessert spoons made by Robert Garrard in 1816 (see Figs 1 & 2). Both of us wishing for an example, we enquired if he would break the set. The owner, being a shrewd businessman, knew it would be easier to sell a set of six of these spoons, rather than eight. He thus offered us two each at the princely sum of 30 a spoon. Martin and I looked at each other and happily stumped up the necessary cash. We then continued our separate ways around Portobello. Knowing the dealer, I never inspected my spoons quite as closely as I might otherwise have done.

Fig. 2

I thought no more of it, apart from the occasional gloat over my prizes from time to time, until my attention was drawn to the sad fact of Bonhams auction of Martin's collection. When I got the catalogue, the cover displayed a picture of the bowl of one of our spoons. The first thing I did on the viewing day was to check that lot out, and have a triumphant smirk. I then spent time taking photographs, with the kind permission of Bonhams, for my 'Directory of Scottish Silversmiths and their Marks'.

Just recently, I decided to alter my collection, so I started to sell off some of my pieces at a fair. The one Garrard spoon I was prepared to part with, went very rapidly. As the buyer had also bought a copy of my Directory, he had my e-mail address. That evening I received an e-mail from him, telling me that he was not happy as the spoon had solder marks just above the casting on the bowl, and I had failed to advise him of the 'repair'.

I had not dreamt that it was repaired and so I got my example out for an inspection. There, just above the casting of the bowl, was a faint solder mark, all the way round (see Figs. 3 & 4). One spoon broken, I apologise and take it back. But two exactly the same, I started to think a little deeper. Having done some silversmithing myself, I know the difficulties of casting. It would be fairly simple to cast the stem up to the finial. It would also be easy to cast the heavy gauge bowl with the shell in the bowl and the ornate heel. Casting the two as one, would not be easy, and producing a set of twelve would inevitably result in some failed castings and, worse, interesting comments from the master smith.

Fig. 3Fig. 4

If the two were cast separately, however, the solder mark would not be a repair, but a part of the construction of the spoon. As John Emery states in his book 'European Spoons before 1700', a soldered joint between the bowl and stem, where the loading is greatest, is not desirable, but this would appear to have been a very special service. It is questionable as to whether a person buying pieces of the quality of these, would be satisfied with something with such a solder joint. The answer is that the join would not be as noticeable when new, and, of course, those using the spoons would never look closely enough. The diners in 1816, somewhere around the twentieth course of a banquet, with all the attendant wines, would have enough problems selecting the right implement, with no chance of noticing any join, even had table manners permitted such close inspection. It is only now, with collectors checking for problems, that this join may be spotted. The only person, at that time, able to give close enough attention, would have been the butler as he cleaned the silver with his noxious concoctions.

John Emery states that it was not uncommon for finials to be joined to the stem with a solder joint. It would be very interesting to study a range of spoons with decoratively cast bowls and stems to gain further insight into the construction of these delightful works of art.

Many other questions come to mind when one looks at a piece like this. What was the rest of the table-setting like when this set was in use? Was this set specially created for some occasion, if so what? Who may have used this spoon?

For the first of these, the collector can only drool. The date letter of 1816 may answer the second. The previous year saw the Battle of Waterloo. By the time France had been reconstructed, the date of these spoons could mark the return of a high ranking officer, replete with the spoils of war, hosting a special celebratory banquet. If this was so, those at the meal could have included Wellington, possibly Byron or even the Prince Regent. Dreams like these just make one's pieces that little bit more special. I wish you all joy and satisfaction in your collections.


The London Duty Marks For 1797

By Ian McAlpine

It has long been known among collectors that a cusped duty mark was introduced on London silver on 6th July 1797 to indicate the doubling of duty at that time. Pickford's Jackson illustrates two forms of duty mark used during that assay year (date letter 'B'), a 'normal' oval one supposedly used from 29th May to 5th July 1797 and one with cusps on the left side and base used from 6th July 1797 until 28th May 1798. The normal oval head was resumed on 29th May 1798 when the date letter 'C' was introduced.

In more than seven years of studying the hallmarking of late Georgian London flatware I never encountered an example of the 'normal' oval duty head at London in 1797. If it were in use for about five and a half weeks, as Pickford's Jackson indicates, we would expect that around 10% of London silver carrying the date letter 'B' would exhibit this type of duty mark. I have only ever seen a single example of the second type of duty head shown by Jackson, with left-hand and basal cusps and this is on a pair of tongs in my own collection.

I have however examined numerous examples of London flatware (all of them spoons), with duty heads showing basal and right-handed cusps, a variation ignored by Pickford's Jackson. Was the normal oval duty mark used at all during the 1797 assay year I wonder? And could the left and right-handed of that year have been used for different purposes?


.16. / .17.
The Finial, March/April 2004

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