Cutlery

With the advent of the dishwasher the demand for electroplated cutlery has sadly declined. I feel that today’s diners are missing out on the unprecedented joy (perhaps a slight exaggeration) of owning and using such fabulous flatware. That fact aside, the history of cutlery up to the development of electroplate is actually an interesting one.

In medieval Europe most people had a wooden or pewter spoon at home and if visiting friends or relatives they took it with them. The wealthy tended to do the same, but theirs were silver. Later a knife was added, but spoons, especially silver ones, hammered from a single small ingot, have survived in much greater numbers.

With the exception of Apostle spoons, spoons were not made in sets until the end of the 17th century. Many were, however, given as presents on special occasions, which could account for why so many have survived today.

When Charles II returned from exile in France in 1660, he brought with him the idea of setting a table for eating. This was a wonderful idea which not only dispensed with the embarrassment of forgetting one’s spoon when visiting, but also made the whole dining experience much more enjoyable. As with all good ideas though it took many years to catch on and it is unusual to find complete sets of cutlery that date much before the late 18th century.

Individual designs all have their own names. In Britain, the Trefid pattern gave way to the Dog Nose pattern circa 1702. Throughout the 18th century the Hanoverian pattern was followed by the Old English and finally the Fiddle pattern. The 19th century started with the Kings pattern. These patterns and their variants are still produced today.

Collectors have great fun collecting full canteens by matching patterns and periods. What is even more fun is to collect one maker.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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Hallmarks

A friend recently asked me to look at a silver tea service he had acquired in a distant relative’s will. Apparently he always played with it as a small child. Not remembering the tea service and hardly remembering the relative, he was however interested in it’s history and I think more importantly it’s value. Sadly I was a disappointment to him as what looked to him like hallmarks were not and the service was silver plated not silver. The value therefore was greatly reduced. In an attempt to appear interested after his let down he asked the question, “Well what exactly is silver and how can you tell?”

Pure silver is too soft to be practical and is therefore combined with small amounts of copper. Ideal proportions of 925 parts silver to 75 parts copper have been used in Britain since the 13th century and this is Sterling silver. The use of Sterling silver is enforced by The WorshipfulI Company of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths and the proof of the purity of the metal is punched into items, making hallmarks.

In Britain, a hallmark generally consists of the Sterling mark (the lion passant) together with symbols to denote place of assay, date and maker. Full hallmarks are present on the main body of an item and detachable parts such as lids, but part hallmarks are used for other areas such as handles, which could be separated by removing a screw or pin.

By 1300 the hallmark was made compulsory and in 1363 every Silversmith had to have their own mark. Originally the first two letters of a Silversmiths surname were used and then from around 1720, the initials of the first name and surname became more common and are still used today.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website