Not everyone is born with a silver spoon in their mouths. In fact, when people first used spoons the majority were made of wood. The cost meant that only the merchant class could afford to buy spoons made of pewter and they could not afford silver which was for the wealthy. Up until about 1670 people used their fingers and a spoon, with few using a fork. People carried their one and only spoon with them and wiped it between courses.
The style of spoons generally reflected the ruler of the day. Spoons made during the puritan period of Cromwell are plain in design, whilst those made during the reign of Charles II have a flair to their design, with the craftsmen adding decorations.
So, if you would like to change your wooden spoon for the charm and feel of silver what should you look for?
Charles II pieces are called trefid spoons, meaning that it has a threepointed decorative top to its handle. Prices range from £172 for a 1702 trefid spoon to £2,800 for a St. James the Greater apostle spoon made in 1592. Apostle spoons were made in sets of 12 or 13 with a small figure of Jesus, or one of the disciples, at the end of the stem. They are mostly to be found with the disciple holding the instrument of their death; St. Paul holding a sword, St. Bartholomew a flaying knife, St Matthias an axe and St. Simon a saw. In medieval days these were given as christening or wedding presents. Today a set of 12 apostle spoons has sold at auction for £245,500.
When first made an apostle spoon such as one made by Thomas Dare in Taunton, Somerset, England in 1647 would have sold for 15 shillings (75p), which was a lot of money at the time. This spoon depicts St. Peter holding the keys to the gates of heaven and has the inscription that indicates that ER was to marry TB. Today the spoon is valued at £4,500, still a great deal of money.
Stories behind the spoons abound, for Thomas Dare was in trouble with the authorities some years before he made the apostle spoon, as in 1633 he was caught forging the sterling silver verification hallmark. He was fined a few pounds and seems not to have got into any further trouble. Today forging goes on and fakes are still found. The trade is still recovering from a recent case. In the 1980s a talented silversmith, Peter AshleyRussell, started faking rare valuable treasures by melting down relatively inexpensive antique spoons to make counterfeit copies of rare antique spoons and applying copies of the original marks. His greed led him to flood the market with too many pieces and in 1986 he was found out, taken to court, and sentenced to 21 months in prison.
Faking and dishonesty with the silver content of an article has always been a problem, so, in 1478, England adopted the hallmark system. Each article is tested (assayed) to see that it contains at least 92.5% silver and, if found to be correct, is stamped with the lion passant, usually on the back of the stem of a spoon. A date code, represented by a letter of the alphabet, is also stamped into the silver article.
Books that you should consult are London Silver Spoon Makers, and West Country Silver Spoons and their Makers by Timothy Kent. Hallmark date codes can easily be looked up in Bradburys Book of Hallmarks or Jacksons Silver and Gold Marks. All are available from bookshops.
Now, how do you look after the spoons and not make mistakes when buying? Keep them shiny, but with care. Too much rubbing will wear away designs and hallmarks. Without a hallmark it is only a pretty piece of cutlery and worth only its weight in silver on the international bullion market. Fakes are hard to spot so if in doubt consult an expert such as a reputable dealer or auction house, it will be worth any cost. Feel tells you a lot, but that only comes with experience. Shellbacked spoons, so called because they feature a raised shell or scroll on their back where the stem joins the bowl, made between 1740 and 1760, are a good investment. The shell is on the back because spoons were laid face down on the table. Shell spoons can be bought for less then £100 at the moment, but their value will increase. Remember you are only the caretaker of the spoons for future generations.
A club does exist called the Silver Spoon Club of Great Britain and its founder is Terry Haines. The address and telephone number can be obtained from the reference section of a public library.
Good hunting and remember you should buy a spoon because you like it, not because it should increase in value, then you will not be disappointed if its value decreases.