Candelabra

Twice each year I think about the candelabra, once at Christmas and once at Easter. Both are times of celebrating and what better way to celebrate anything than to bring out the candelabra.

Candelabra follow the styles of the candlestick, but they are rare before the late 18th century and if found will generally only have two detachable arms. By the end of the 18th century candelabra
are more common and fashion dictated that the number of arms found on their detachable tops increased, initially to three but by the middle of Victoria’s reign five, six and more were common.

The three branch candelabra was a common sight by the end of the 18th century. These were tall and they grew in size until their peak in the Regency period. The decoration, as explained, followed the candlestick and around this time decoration of fluting was enclosed by beaded borders.

It is important to ensure that the decoration of the main body matches that of the detachable branches, therefore ensuring the candelabra is all original and not a marriage of two parts. As in life there are good and bad marriages, but with the candelabra ever a top and bottom living together in complete love and perfect harmony will never be as good as a completely original example.

On the early candelabra the branches could be removed and the central stem used as a candlestick. On later examples this dual usage was impossible because the stems grew too high and the nozzles too wide to hold a candle.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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Vinaigrettes

At the end of the 18th century a combination of poor personal hygiene and disastrous sewage control made walking through streets a rather smelly business. Enter the vinaigrette. Used by many in polite society, it was a tiny hinged box which opened to reveal a decorative grill trapping a perfume soaked sponge. When held close to the nostrils the smell was considerably more pleasant than the surrounding odours.

The earliest vinaigrettes were simply the tiny boxes already described. The interior of the box was gilt lined to prevent the acidic liquid from destroying the metal. A side ring would be added, which enabled the owner to wear it as a pendant on a necklace or as part of a bracelet.

As the earliest vinaigrettes were so small their decoration was little more than simple engraving or bright cut patterns. However by the early 19th century vinaigrettes had grown somewhat and now at an enormous 4cm there was room for much more elaborate decoration. They were decorated with intricate scrollwork, flowers and foliage and figural and animal designs. The borders were often cast raised with flowers and shells and the lids could sometimes be engraved with initials or personal Coats of Arms.

The basic rectangular form was eventually abandoned in favour of more exciting shapes and designs. These varied widely from tiny purses and fob watches to books, flowers, fish, animals and shells. These are the details that make the collecting of vinaigrettes such an exciting and vibrant hobby for today’s collector and why they always sell so well in the saleroom.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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Cutlery

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

The hallmark of a good Dowse Christmas is a healthy discussion over the choosing, placement and decoration of the Christmas tree, which in over forty years I have never won and an increase in trouser size for my return to work.

Also at Christmas we think of gifts and often those gifts are made from Sterling silver, which is another time when we come across hallmarks.

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 Worshipful 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

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Silver Teapots

As spring turns to summer, or tries to, my wife and I find ourselves dusting the cobwebs off the rucksack and planning a walk or two in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside. We are very much fair weather walkers, a little like hibernating animals waking from winter sleeps.

This years first walk was an unambitious gentle few miles around the Chatsworth estate. I packed the rucksack. Fortunately it is cavernous as I felt we needed raincoats, extra woollens, a bottle of water, a plentiful packed lunch, a large flask of tea, a mat to lay the lunch on, sweets to chew, two hats and a folding stool ( the stool ties onto the rucksack as I prefer it to the mat).

Needless to say, being the strongest of the two of us by a short head, I carried the rucksack. I think I may have overdone it with provisions because after half a mile I was pretty desperate to stop for lunch. We drank all the liquids, ate all the lunch, put on the hats and after a short rest continued.

With a much lighter load I was able to enjoy the countryside and as my wife chatted gaily away I let my mind wander. I thought about the tea we had just drunk, the history of it and that marvellous vessel the teapot.

Tea was introduced to Europe from China with the expansion of trade in the 17th century and was a great novelty to people used to drinking only beer and posset. Although it was extremely
expensive, a pound of tea cost the equivalent to a year’s wage for a maid, it quickly became very popular. It was originally drunk after dinner and was usually prepared personally by the lady of the
house. Those who were buying tea also had the means to buy silver and by the end of the 18th century tea wares had become a major part of the silversmith’s trade.

The earliest teapots date from the late 17th century but very few of these exist today. They were designed along the lines of the imported Chinese porcelain teapots. The pear shape came into
being early in the 18th century and was the dominant style in Britain.

From the 1730’s the compressed globular or ‘bullet’ shape became more fashionable than the the pear shape. Some teapots were very richly decorated with bands of engraved or chased scrolls,
strapwork and flowers around the body and the edge of the lid. One interesting variation on the bullet shape was the fully spherical teapot on a high foot that was a speciality of Scottish
Silversmiths.

In the 1770’s the availability of rolled sheet silver in thin gauge meant that silversmiths could produce teapots at a much reduced price. As rolled silver was easier to mould and shape, the oval
and circular teapot shapes became popular in line with the rise of the Neo-classical style. However such teapots were not as robust as those made from heavier gauge metal and splitting is
sometimes evident around the spout which was made from seamed sheet metal instead of being cast.

The 19th century saw many further developments in teapot design, not least the electroplated model. The whole century is a separate subject. What a collectable item the silver teapot is.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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Georg Jenson

Georg Jenson (1866 – 1935) was a silversmith. He opened his own studio in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1904 and is widely considered one of the most important silversmiths of the 20th century. Born in 1866, he began life as a sculptor before establishing his own company producing silverware. His small workshop found fame after Jenson exhibited his work at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Copenhagen in late 1904. He specialised in jewellery, flatware and hollowware, concentrating on simple and elegant designs.

Georg Jensen; a Hallmarked Silver Bracelet of double tulip design, stamped 100B
Georg Jensen; a Hallmarked Silver Bracelet of double tulip design, stamped 100B

Jenson’s silverware was governed by the principles of the Arts and Crafts movement; preferring handmade items using traditional methods over mass produced inferior products with a perfect balance between functionality and beauty. His designs, and those of the designers he employed to work alongside him such as Henning Koppel, Johan Rohde and Sigvard Bernodotte, were in the Art Nouveau style, with inspiration from the natural world particularly flowers and grapes. They used hand-hammered techniques to finish, drawing attention to the quality of the silver with minimal decoration and simple, clean and often rounded shapes.

Many different hallmarks are found on Jenson wares as they changed over time, which makes pieces much easier to date. Many designers also had their own hallmarks alongside the Company’s. One of Jensen’s greatest assets was the quality of his designers. He hired designers with values and principles similar to himself and nurtured their talents, giving them an extraordinary amount of freedom to create and design with outstanding results.

The Georg Jenson Company is still producing today; a hugely successful venture still working by the same principles and design ideas of Jenson himself.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

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