The spoon is one of the most rewarding objects to collect in English silver. From a $50 18th century teaspoon to the set of seven early 17th century Apostle Spoons we recently sold for well over $100,000, Early English spoons allow the collector to acquire examples of different makers, styles and periods of time that would be cost prohibitive in any other form.
The collectable forms of early English spoons include Seal Top, Puritan, Slip End, StumpTop, Apostle, Maiden Head, Lion Sejant, Trefid plus some forms that are unique to the Provinces such as Buddha Knop and Aphrodite Top.
The Slip End, Stump Top and Apostle spoons are found prior to the 15th century, although examples are exceedingly scarce and command huge premiums. Seal Top, Maiden Head and Lion Sejant spoons start to show up early in the 16th century and continued to have been made, along with Slip End, Stump Top and Apostle spoons, right up until the end of the third quarter of the 17th century. The Puritan spoon was only produced during a short period of the second half of the 17th century, about the time that the Trefid spoon was being introduced, which is considered to be the first true “Pattern."
The majority of spoons were made in London, where there existed a small group of specialist spoon makers. These silversmiths concentrated on spoons of all different forms and rarely made anything else. In comparison, the fork was not accepted as an everyday utensil until the last part of the 17th century and did not become popular and commonplace until the last half of the 18th century. The clergy preached that God gave man hands with which to eat his daily meat and early forks were considered un-Godly.
Comprehensive hallmarking by London silversmiths since the year 1478, allow collectors the ability to determine where, when, and by whom a spoon was made. Since the year 1300, the town mark of London was struck on all silver made there. Sometime after, the makers mark followed, first as just a symbol and then, the initials of his name. In 1478, London started a year lettering system using 20 year cycles incorporating 20 letters of the alphabet. At the end of the 20 years, the style of the letter, shield it was struck in, or upper case or lower case would be changed and the cycle would start over again. Finally, in 1544 a fourth mark was added called the Lion Passant or the sterling mark. This assured the buying public that the article was sterling standard or 925 parts pure silver out of 1000. This mark was struck at the assay office after the articles were tested for purity.
In short, the modern day collector of silver can find nice examples of a late 16th century Seal Top spoon in the $5000 range while a beaker or goblet from the same date might cost ten times that. A nice example of a late 17th century Trefid spoon can be had in the $1000 to $2000 range and makes an excellent addition to any good English silver collection.