First of all: What is a Spoon?
An odd question perhaps, but a spoon has many purposes:-
- It’s primary function and it’s raison d’etre is for eating sloppy food; food that slips through the prongs (oops - tines) of a fork. However, for most collectors of spoons their function is to be impressively displayed in a cabinet or drawer, and the spoons rarely get within a whiff of a bowl of broth.
- As one of the more readily available and less expensive items of silver it is the best way to collect hallmarks and to research makers’ and town marks.
- A spoon can be used as a historical reference point for social or political change, such as the introduction and development of tea equipage running alongside England’s favourite drink, or political motifs to the reverse of the bowls on 18th century picture back spoons. The beauty of the spoon is that it can be dated to a specific year.
- Forks are also classed as spoons! They’re not really - but they are made by spoon makers under the generic name of "flatware". Knives are classed separately under the generic name of "cutlery". Spoons and forks are not considered to be cutlery.
Why Collect Antique Silver Spoons?
There are many reasons why people collect spoons:-
- the appreciation of old or beautiful objects
- the hunt for rare or missing pieces to a collection
- to achieve the satisfaction of completing a collection
- collecting hallmarks
- a sound financial investment - which is also fun
- or bizarrely to actually use!
So a spoon provides you with the fun and thrill of the chase, an object to admire, a moment of history, a research opportunity, a money-maker … all this and yet at the end of the day you can still dip it in to your favourite bowl of hot soup.
How to collect Antique Spoons
For such a small, everyday object, it is amazing how many differing ways there are to collect spoons. An antique silver spoon bought wisely, will not only give pleasure from its’ beauty in form, but will be a capital investment ever increasing in value.
A long history...
In silver there is no other item that has had such a long history, and been produced in such large quantities. It is the only item of 14th, 15th and 16th Century silver that is readily available to the collector, and the only item of 17th and early18th Century silver that is easily affordable.
A late 18th century silver teaspoon can still be regularly bought for less than £10, or if your pocket extends to tens of thousands of pounds, then there are still spoons awaiting you...the sale of the Benson Collection at Christies in June 2013 saw many spoons make high five figure sums, with the top price for a single spoon being £91,000 for a spoon dating from circa 1440.
Spoons have been made in all sizes from tiny toy and spice spoons to huge ladles and hash spoons, in all forms from plain Old English pattern to novelty spoons in the form of everything from sea shells, to jockey caps, to emblematic figures. They have been made in all corners of the World and most counties of England, Scotland & Ireland – but rather oddly not in Wales.
I have met many spoon collectors and have been astounded by the rich variety of specialist knowledge gained by collectors in their chosen fields. If you are new to spoon collecting there is an abundance of areas in which you could collect. Some fields have proved very popular to collectors and have resulted in specialist books, but there is still plenty of scope for collecting in under researched areas.
I have put together some general headings under which most collections would fall, and have attempted to point out the currently under-priced areas and under-researched areas. Generally speaking, if there is a book on a particular subject, the prices will tend to be more inflated than in other areas, e.g. caddy spoons and Hester Bateman.
It is often a good idea to have two or more collections running side-by-side, so that if you decide on an area which is either very expensive or the items are very scarce, your collecting can be continued in other directions.
This is probably the most common form of collection, i.e. any spoon that takes your fancy, with the ultimate aim to have an example of all types. By choosing and buying with care your purchases will be good investments and increase in value.
Collecting Early Spoons
Any second-hand spoon is old, a 100-year old spoon is antique, but in spoon collecting "old" or "early" relates to any spoon pre-1720 in date. These form the most valuable collections; prices in excess of £1000 are not unusual when buying a spoon of this date. Particularly rare spoons can attain figures of £20,000+. In June 2013, a Wodewose figural spoon of circa 1440 from the Benson collection sold at Christies for £70,000 + 30% buyer's premium, giving an all inclusive price of £91,000! However, some 17th century spoons, mostly Trefids, can be bought for less than £500.
See the section on Early Spoons for more information.
Collecting by Form
Form in a spoon relates to the style or pattern. Collections concentrating on a single pattern can result in building a canteen. These canteens can be made up at a fraction of the cost of buying a canteen out right. The more rare the pattern, the more difficult it is to make up the canteen, but will ultimately be more valuable.
Collecting the thirteen types of Apostle Spoons is the ultimate collection of spoons, but great pleasure can be had in gathering together all the forms of Trefid spoon, Picture backs or variations of bright-cut engraved items.
Alternatively you could assemble a collection of as many different patterns and their variants as possible. See the section on Flatware Patterns for more information.
Collecting by Type
The rise in value of the silver caddy spoon can be attributed solely to the highly collectable nature of this interesting little spoon. Any type of spoon can become your specialist area. Some items such as sugar tongs and condiment spoons are easy to find and not too expensive, others such as the very satisfying basting spoons and caddy spoons are not uncommon, but are expensive, and finally those rarities such as mote spoons or medicine spoons are both rare and expensive.
Items that are probably under-priced in the collecting arena include sauce ladles, sifter spoons, butter knives and unusual late 19th and early 20th century items such as sardine forks, cocktail spoons etc. See Types of Spoon section for more information.
Collecting by origin
There is huge scope for choosing a field that interests you to start a collection based on origin. Most people opt for their town or region of birth, and spoons may only be a part of this collection.
Items from the major assay office towns of London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Dublin are plentiful and so perhaps specialist fields within this area can be looked at. For example there has been little in the way of flatware produced in Birmingham, and Sheffield marked items are rare before the mass production of the late 19th Century.
The extant assay office towns offer good collecting possibilities, with items from Chester, Newcastle, Exeter, York and Glasgow now being much sought after. Other English provincial centres such as Leeds, Barnstaple and Norwich are very rare, generally pre-1700 and command extremely high prices. Please see the section on English Provincial for a selection of stock for sale with each town having its own specific page.
Scottish and Irish provincial spoons are much more common, and were made as late as the mid 19th Century. Even so, this is a highly collectable area and a single teaspoon from a provincial centre will sell for many times the price of a similar English made example.
See Assay Offices/town marks section for more information
Collecting by Maker
Spoons by certain makers command higher prices than those made by their contemporaries. It is usually because of their reputation of making items with a greater standard of workmanship than the norm, for example Paul Storr or Chawner & Co. In addition to her quality of design, spoons by Hester Bateman are highly valued because of her gender, her interesting story and a book that has been written about her. There are several makers from the 20th century that made fantastic spoons, for example Omar Ramsden, and the beautiful array of patterns designed in the Georg Jensen silver workshop are worth considering - I have a particular soft spot for the elegant cream/sauce ladles that he produced.
See Spoon makers section for more information.
Collecting by Date
This can be achieved in one of two ways. By concentrating on one particularly period, and assembling a collection representing that period, or by collecting a spoon with the date letter for every year within that period – usually the 18th Century, as the 17th Century and earlier is too difficult (& expensive!) and the 19th Century too easy. The 20th Century would also be very difficult to collect a spoon for each year, because of the limited number of spoons available for the more recent years.