This is a quick checklist before buying that "got to have spoon".
- Is it what it purports to be? Is it right? Does the style match the date from the hallmark? 18th Century Apostle spoons do not exist!
- Is it in a good enough condition with nice hallmarks for me to be happy for it to sit in my collection?
The condition of a spoon is of paramount importance when considering value, but how important is it when adding a spoon to a collection? This is very subjective – if you collect hallmarks then the complete absence of a bowl may not be worrying to you, but the same spoon would leave a mess on your tablecloth if you intended to use it. Generally speaking you should try to buy the best your budget will allow, but remember you can always sell it again if a better example happens along. Here is a quick checklist for checking condition.
- Check the spoon for repairs – breathing on it will not only detect fire stains, or any yellow solder lines, but will pass any germs on to the nice dealer selling you the spoon!
- Look at the profile of the bowl, it should not have any "dips" or a sharp, upturned tip to the bowl. Is the bowl the right size and shape? Worn bowls can be reworked but tend to be smaller and thinner than good examples.
- Look at the terminal. Is it particularly thin in comparison to the stem? Perhaps an old engraved inscription has been removed – but remember that the terminals tend to be flatter than the stem as they have suffered more hammering during manufacture.
Are the engraved inscriptions contemporary to the hallmark? For example initials in a flowing script style with lots of flourishes would not be contemporary on a dog-nose spoon, but rather have been added 100 years later by a doyen of the current fashion. For more information on engraving please click this link.
- What are those funny scratches – hallmarks? There is nothing more beautiful than four (or five) clearly struck, easy to read hallmarks. However it is generally not that easy, especially with those nasty, squashed bottom struck marks. Arguably the most important two marks are the date letter and the maker’s mark, but a clearly stamped rare town mark can have you in raptures. What use is a perfectly formed 14th Century diamond point with no marks to a hallmark collector? As with the condition of the spoon, only buy what you are happy with. For more information on hallmarks please click this link.
- Decoration. How crisp is the decoration? With particular attention to the heel of the spoon where it wears from contact with the table, and also on the terminal where an engraved inscription may have been removed.
Fakes & Forgeries
There are lots of these around – but worry not as most are very poorly executed and would fool nobody (except me a few times!).
- 18th Century spoons with an apostle or seal terminal stuck on the end. The bowls are occasionally re-worked to look more genuine. Easy to detect as 18th Century Apostle or Seal top spoons do not exist! The bottom struck marks look completely wrong, and the bowl often still has the hammer marks on the reverse of the bowl where it was re-shaped.
- Stilton scoops converted from tablespoons. These are usually poorly done with the sides of the scoop being somewhat flimsier than their authentic counterparts.
- Later stamped picture back spoons. Authentic picture backs were re-introduced by Thomas Bradbury and Son in the early 20th Century, however it is from this legitimate source that old spoons were stamped with the dies and are now in circulation. Experts purport to be able to distinguish between authentic and later examples, but it is difficult to tell without an original to compare against. Basically 19th Century examples and very clear examples should be treated with care.
- Caddy spoons with teaspoon handles – usually having rare marks (often Irish) or attached to attractive bowls. The spoon will have been made in two pieces, with the stem joined to the bowl or scoop. Remember however that many legitimate caddy spoons were made in two pieces – does the handle and hallmark look like that of a teaspoon – if yes be warned!
- Sets of Trefid or Dog-nose spoons. Are all the hallmarks similarly stamped? They may well have been cast from one original. Look closely at the marks for a blurred image or a grainy background.
- Cast spoons. Check the quality of the casting, and if hallmarked check for a blurred image or a grainy background.
- Forks converted from spoons. Early forks are very rare, and so has been an inducement to the faker to either convert or remove spoon bowls and add fork tines instead. Of particular concern should be all early 18th Century three pronged forks. Basting spoons have occasionally had fork tines cut into them to make them into the much scarcer serving fork – they re usually fairly flimsy.
- Snuff spoons – some are the cut down sections of sugar tongs - usually obvious because the hallmarks are the wrong way around.
- Marrow scoops/spoons converted from tablespoons – check for solder lines in the centre, or poorly shaped scoop sections.
- Berry spoons converted from tablespoons. These very attractive spoons with chased bowls did not exist until Mid-Victorian times; any pre-dating 1840 will be conversions. Similarly sugar sifter spoons with berried bowls did not exist in the 18th Century.
- Mote spoons converted from teaspoons. These are usually poorly done with great big round holes, often with a teaspoon style handle not a spiked terminal. Post-dating 1780 – unlikely.
- Sifter ladles that have been converted from salt or sauce ladles. Usually drilled round holes (and not always symmetrical!), often out of period.
- Andiron sugar tongs. This is the most sought after style of sugar tong and originals date to the beginning of the 18th century. I have recently seen a pair of convincing fakes that had illegible marks to the inside of the bowls. On close inspection the mark was seen to be pitted - evidence of it being cast from an original. Furthermore one of the bowls was slightly out of kilter (i.e. it had been put on incorrectly), this was more likely an error in its "recent" construction than a repair.
Which have you fallen prey to? I’m ashamed to say that I have succumbed to numbers 4 & 8 (both many years ago you understand!).
To avoid becoming a victim, Goldsmiths Hall (the London Assay Office) hold regular seminars relating to fakes and forgeries. For a great day out, including lunch, they are very highly recommended. These events are held in London and Edinburgh and details can be found on the website of Goldsmiths Hall.