Picture-Back Spoons of the Eighteenth Century

By Chris Bell

Members will know from previous articles published in The Finial (Oct/Nov 2000; Jan/Feb 2002 & Apr/May 2003) that Mark Nevard and I are researching the fascinating subject of eighteenth century picture-back spoons. John Sutcliffe's article in the last issue (Dec/Jan/Feb 2003/4) therefore, 'struck a cord'.

From the now, many dozens of these 'bird and chicks' that I have seen on picture-back spoons, during the course of the research, none have been convincingly any bird other than a representation of a chicken / hen from any of the makers that I have on record as producing this image on spoons.

The descriptions of turkey and chicks, goose and goslings (and others) therefore, I believe are 'in the eye of the beholder' and hen and chicks serves correctly for those depicted in John's article. I will of course, never say never, and like John would be most interested to see a genuine, unequivocal picture of a turkey or goose with their young on the back of the bowl of an eighteenth century spoon.

Included in the study of picture-back spoons referred to above, is the determination of the range of different pictures produced and the variations in those pictures by the different makers (some examples shown handsomely in John Sutcliffe's article). Alongside this we are endeavouring to establish whether or not there is any particular historical association with any of the pictures.

In these endeavours, auction catalogues, books and museums have been consulted, and we have been supported by many collectors and dealers who have kindly supplied information about spoons in their possession.

This has allowed the development of a 'Register' of picture-backs indicating:
1. Spoon type: teaspoon, tablespoon, dessert-spoon.
2. Spoon design: Hanoverian or old English.
3. The Picture.
4. Makers Mark.
5. Owner's inscription/crest.
6. Actual date where known (from table and dessert spoons).
7. Provenance: where the spoon came from e.g. sale (which saleroom), private sale etc.

The register is already helping with:
  • Traceability of such spoons.
  • Determination of the different makers who used each design.
  • Identification of the different dies that exist for each design.
  • Establishment of a historical context for the designs.
  • Identification of later embellished spoons (as discussed in the afore-mentioned articles).
  • Foundation information for the book that we are writing on the subject.

    If any Club member has any eighteenth-century, picture-back spoons and has not provided information about them for The Register, please do, as the more information we can collate, the more informative the book can be, for fellow enthusiasts.

    If you would like to contribute information for the 'Register' or the research in general, please contact me via Daniel.

  • The Finial, March/April 2004

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