EARLY BRITISH TABLE SILVER : A SHORT HISTORY
17th & 18th Century British Spoon Forms : Apostle (1624), Seal Top (c1640),
Laceback Trefid (1680), Dognose (1708), Hanoverian (1715), "Broad French Stem" (1731), Old English (1795)
The word spoon deriving from the Anglo-Saxon word "spon", meaning sliver of wood.
The use of spoon-like utensils goes back to pre-history. Earliest spoons were probably shells. The earliest found silver British spoon dates to the Anglo-Saxon period (499-1060) and resides in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. From the 1500's, single silver spoons were often given at birth to the wealthy as a lifetime utensil. These were carried about on the person when traveling - through a slit in the hat, or perhaps in a "cutlery pouch" suspended from the waist - a practice common even into the early 18th century. If one forgot his/her utensils, the "house spoon" of wood of pewter might be supplied by the inn or host.
Folding Traveling Spoon / Cutlery Pouch. c1620
Also see : Early 17th Century Traveling Figural Spoon
The 15th and early 16th century spoon might have a fig-shaped bowl and variation of shafts - from plain, to small seal and figural terminals, including apostle spoons. In the 16th and early 17th century, a royal or extremely wealthy newborn might be recipient of a small "set" of apostle spoons at christening; however, even those were given by multiple sponsors, the sponsorship being limited to 3 in the second half of the 16th century. A complete set of apostle spoons would comprise 13 spoons - 12 apostles and one master spoon of the Christ figure. Few such complete sets, of the same maker and date, still exist, and usually reside in museums. Most have varying makers and dates.
Large sets of spoons were quite rare in the early 18th century.
Although sets of 12 utensils (forks or spoons) were ordered from c1720 forward, the complete set of silver flatware, as we know it today, did not come about until c1760. Even early Georgian Hanoverian sets are quite rare. Most who wish to collect and use early Georgian silver for the table will assemble a set. With great patience, a set by the same maker might be assembled, having different dates and owners' initials or crests. However varying makers, dates, and towns of origin are also quite acceptable and usual.
Small silver dessert sets were introduced in the1690's, usually in sets of 6, both in the trefid ("French forked spoon" - from c1660) and dognose (wavy-end - from c1690) patterns. In the Queen Anne period (1702-14), although most spoons were still ordered in singles or pairs, some small sets were ordered - usually still in sets of 6, known as straight sets. These were added to as needed - those sets then called assembled.
Some Interesting Early Spoon Forms : Left to Right
Trefid Sweetmeat Spoon (c1695), Queen Anne Dognose Teaspoon (c1710), Cast Handle Teaspoon (c1750)
Hanoverian Sugar Sifting Ladles (c1780) and Mote Spoon for tea straining (c1750)
Onslow Teaspoon (1767), Rare Thread and Drop Teaspoon (c1780), Miniature Marrow Spoon (1800)
(Many smaller spoons bear only a sterling and/or a maker's mark)
In the late Queen Anne period, the Hanoverian pattern, with Continental roots, having a more elongated bowl and rounded upturned terminal was introduced into England, and became the form of preference during the early Georgian period. It was also during the George I (1714-1727) period that sets of 12 became available. A service at this time might consist of assembled sets of 8" place (table) spoons, dessert spoons (a 6.5" spoon introduced about 1730 and made through about 1775 - of similar size to our modern teaspoon), 8" dinner forks, 6.5" dessert forks, and various serving pieces. Measurements varied, even within the same sets, or services. In the early 18th century, most foods continued to be eaten with a spoon. Knives were ordered separately.
Some Early Forks: top to bottom:
Sucket Fork, early 17c (for staining fruits and wet puddings); Britannia Silver Dognose Fork;
Silver Hanoverian 3-Tined Fork; 4-Tined Fork, used with both mid-18c Hanoverian & Old English
Forks, in the early 17th century, were used only for moving and securing food - as while carving.
Prior to the late 17th century, forks had only two sharp tines. At the very end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century, silver dinner forks with three tines were introduced - the three tines representing the thumb and two first fingers, then proper for transporting solid foods to the mouth. Although forks had existed since biblical times, they were quite slow to catch on in England. The earlier British clergy contended that God gave people fingers for eating, and declared forks to be diabolical (forks sometimes then referred to as "pitchforks", having the same Latin root furca). The "sherbet course" was introduced in the early 1700's, not to clear the palette, as commonly thought, but for the washing of the single fork for the next course. Queen Anne dognose forks are quite rare and therefore quite expensive - more suitable for the collector than for table use. The Hanoverian three-tine fork, while still rare in good condition, is more accessible and quite acceptable with dognose spoons, also being used with dognose spoons during the Queen Anne period.
Four-tine forks became popular in the 1750's, along with the Old English Pattern, in which the shaft of the Hanoverian pattern was inverted, and the table set with the bowls facing upwards.
Early forks usually show some degree of wear to the ends of the tines (prongs), especially the outer tines. This is considered normal wear.
Knives were ordered from "haft makers", and not included with sets of silver until the late 18th century.
Very early knives were sharply pointed "eating knives", carried in sheaths - until France's King Louis XIV declared all knives ground down to reduce violence (1669). Legend has it that the action was also in response to rumors of a planned attack on his life at his own table. A second story relates that France's Cardinal Richelieu grew tired of guests picking their teeth with the knife points - thereby ordering the tips ground down. The result was the rounded tip to the knife that we now know. The blunted knife quickly became an excellent eating assist to collect morsels that would fall between the two tines of the early two-tine fork. Handles (hafts) were both simple and elaborately carved - some even in gold, ivory and inlaid with jewels.
The late 17th century saw the introduction of the very stylish silver cannon-handled knife. Cannon-handled knives, now exceptionally rare, were followed quickly by silver pistol-handled knives, the latter being used with both dognose and Hanoverian forms. The earlier pistol handle is quite simple - both rounded and flat sided in design. From c1730, ornate acanthus or shell scrolls became popular at the terminals (see above illustration). The blunt-tipped scimitar form blades, as above, were made from carbon steel, and will be stained, usually showing wear from sharpening. Mid to late 18th century Old English pattern knives vary in style - most having a straight or tapering haft and straight blunt tip blade, sometimes matched to the spoons and forks in design.
Often early knives have been "re-bladed" with stainless steel for ease of contemporary table use. There are also some very good cleaners for maintaining the early carbon steel blades.
Monograms and Crests add to the value of early silver.
The earliest markings were for personal identification. Earliest initials were simply pricked in with a nail, or another sharp instrument. Into the 18th century, initials were scratch-engraved - often with two initials beneath a single initial, denoting a marriage. Early 18th century monograms sometimes took a conjoined script mirror form, known as cypher-engraved. Late 18th century saw complex conjoined script monograms.
Crests and arms could only be used by those with a title, being fashionable from Charles II period forward. They served not only as identification, enabling stolen or bartered silver to be returned, but for the "dignity of the host and benefit of the guest".
One of the most charming pieces of silver I have seen was a late 17th century spoon, with the dates and initials of all the female owners to whom the spoon had been passed from its original owner. The engravings covered both the shaft and back of the bowl. However, a common practice was to a remove the monograms or crests if a service went up for sale. This would free the service to be engraved by the next owner.
Later Georgian silver patterns, 1790-1830, are better known and, with a few exceptions, more available.
They include Old English variants, with a beaded edge, the Fiddle and Thread pattern, and its variants with a shell, introduced c1790 from the European models. The Fiddle and the Oar patterns were introduced c1800. The ornate and rare Coburg pattern ,(pictured above - click to view) was introduced c1812 - much favored by Paul Storr. The King's pattern was introduced c1815, with it variants Queens, King's Husk and King Hourglass. Most of these later patterns were made throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century.
Note regarding silver content and marks:
Great Britain has always retained a close scrutiny to the production of silver articles, requiring all silver to be assayed and marked in a punch for content since 1327. The date letter system and maker's marks was introduced in 1478, and the sterling lion passant mark introduced in 1544. "Wrong" articles were destroyed at the assay. It is not unusual to read in silver chronicles how many spoons were broken by a particular maker. These marks are quite helpful in properly identifying a piece, even if rubbed or partially struck. Some small items below 1 oz. are not marked, and some smaller items are only partially marked.
Early British silver will be of the sterling standard of .925 silver (925 parts of silver to 75 parts of copper for strength). Silver from 1696-1720 will be of the Britannia silver standard of .958, and bear the Britannia (figure of a woman) punch instead of the lion passant. On London silver, the crowned leopard's head (town mark) was replaced by the lion's head erased with protruding tongue. The Britannia standard was briefly imposed to limit the melting of coinage for decorative purposes. Britannia silver still remains an option in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Hanoverian Table Setting
We specialize in the Hanoverian pattern (shown above), with its excellent weight, simple sculptural form and perfect balance.
Spoons are available with both rattail and drop heels, and also pattern backs.
Forks and knives are available as we can find them, which is quite difficult in good condition.
Although teaspoons were not part of the meal (early teaspoons being 4.75" long), we also offer various forms, some with patterned backs - excellent not only for collectors, but for condiments, espresso spoons, and feeding spoons.
At this time, we also have several selections of mid-18th century Onslow pattern, with cast scrolled terminals.
We also offer a few trefid and dognose (wavy-end) spoons, and select serving pieces in the Old English,
Fiddle and Kings patterns.
We purchase only those flatware examples with presence suitable for the table or collecting.
We offer selections both in sets, and individually.
On a personal note:
Although I would have made a dreadful pioneer woman -- I love air-conditioning, electric dishwashers and email --
I find early spoons one of the most personal pieces I can own from a time so different in life and customs from my own.
It's ownership and use can transport the imagination, or transform the ordinary into elegance with a unique connection to history -
on a daily basis.
We welcome and encourage all inquiries. We will make every attempt to answer any questions you might have.
For information, call (901) 761-1163 or (901) 827-4668 or email email@example.com
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|Early British Table Silver / Short History|