The niche market appears to be the driving force in silver sales today.
The few pieces displaying exceptional artistry or the marks of
hallowed silversmiths still provoke passion and acquisitiveness,
but the traditional market for straightforward domestic flatware
and hollowware looks tired against the energy exerted by collectors
competing for silver novelties and rare provincial pieces.
"The standard middle market is not there any more," said Alexis
Butcher, silver specialist and director at
Woolley & Wallis. "People are shying away from displaying
silver so don't want formal pieces, and no longer use silver
domestic ware in the same way that they used to because of the
Fortunately, plenty of that desirable niche market material
featured in the Salisbury rooms' October 19 silver sale and ensured
a very good overall performance. The fresh-to-market private
collections included the second 35-lot tranche of a collection of
nutmeg graters as well as a good selection on early spoons and the
The allure of Irish provincial silver is pretty reliable and the
more obscure its origins the better. For example, the same spoon
with a London mark might fetch £30, one from Dublin £60-80, one
from the city of Cork, £600-800, depending on the maker.
The Cork (or possibly Limerick) provenance of a 3in (8cm) long
snuffbox, stamped Sterling, dating from 1800-1810 and
inscribed Pat Riordan Cork, also ignited plenty of
interest at the Woolley & Wallis sale, although the absence of
a maker's mark put a few off.
The oblong box with concealed hinge cover was curved to fit
snugly in a waistcoat pocket - an ergonomic design often also
employed by Birmingham silversmiths. It sold to a collector at
£2200 (estimate £600-800).
Outstanding among the spoons was an 8in (20cm), 1.5oz Irish
example in the Hanoverian style (which arrived in Ireland around
1710), with a prominent rib and plain rat-tail, marked with a
W and initialled HC. It was made c.1720-30
by either William Wall (d.1736) or his brother Joseph (d.1734),
silversmiths from the small town of Kinsale in County Cork.
Woolley & Wallis took £3000 for a similar spoon by the same
makers on June 28, 2000. Against that price, the £600-800 estimate
on this October version was, to say the least, conservative.
But one could argue that, although this second example was rare,
it was not unique, and that the major big-spending collector who
bought the first spoon five years ago was unlikely to compete and
push the price up.
Mr Butcher was delighted, but not surprised, by the many bidders
in the room and on the telephones, one of whom eventually bid £5000
for the spoon.
Novelties attracted attention as always, and included a mounted
table or reception bell in the form of a 5.75in (15cm) long
tortoise by Grey & Co, Chester 1912.
If a whole auction can be sustained by the theme of frogs, as it
was at Kidson-Trigg back in September (see ATG No 1710, p.21), then
logical evaluation of collecting habits would suggest that
reptiles, like tortoises, must also have their aficionados.
In the event, it was mainly dealers who bid for it and, despite
having only metal innards and underside and a thin silver shell, it
sold at a double-estimate £1700.
A silver ring box in the form of a Christmas cracker, made by W.
Gibson & J. Langman, London 1898, with incuse registration
design no '324031', was as whimsical as the origin of crackers
They were invented by confectioner Tom Smith of London in 1847
as a way to market his bon-bons after a slump in sales. Smith put
sweets inside a cardboard tube, wrapped them and twisted the ends
of the paper. To his bon-bons he added bon mots on a slip of paper
and inserted the pull popper. The cracker was born and swiftly
caught on as a Victorian Christmas accompaniment.
While the romantic possibilities of a Christmas cracker ring box
are obvious, the scarcity of such objects doubles the attraction,
and a bid of £2300 was needed to secure the box for a dealer, well
over the expected £1400-1600.
Many collectors scrutinised a private consignment of 24 mustard
pots, which sold mainly above estimate.
The lowest winning bid was £90 and five examples went at between
£1000 and £2100, the most expensive being a 4oz, 5in (12.5cm) high
George III neoclassical urn-shaped example with pierced sides, a
blue glass liner and engraved festoons, by William Stevenson,
Perhaps more historically interesting was a George II
cylindrical example by a female maker, Magdaline Feline, London
Although the goldsmiths' profession was unusual in that
it did feature women, they were relatively rare
and 1750-70 is also an early date for mustard pots. The 3in (8cm)
high pot was fairly plain, with two pierced bands with lozenge and
quatrefoil motifs and a bold shell thumb- piece. The appearance of
solidity was vindicated by the weight of 5oz (the average weight of
the other examples was around 3oz). Selling at £1900, it quadrupled
the high estimate.
Although Mr Butcher described the related literature section as
'sticky', a rare 18th century pattern book, containing designs for
domestic articles of Old Sheffield plate, some of which were still
used at the end of the 19th century, sold to a collector of
Sheffield plate at £2100 (estimate £500-600).
The pattern book was dated to about 1790 and it was unnamed and
untitled, probably so that the retailer's customers could not see
who his wholesale suppliers were. Trade is trade, after all.
Above: the rare signature of Paul de Lamerie on a 1741
indenture, which made £4000 at Woolley & Wallis.
A 2ft 8in x 3ft 1in (82 x 94cm) framed indenture between the
great silversmith Paul de Lamerie, Thomas Simmonds and Robert and
Samuel Harper, dated 19th June 1741, for a property in Long
Marston, Gloucestershire, made £4000. The most important parts of
this document were not the details it contained but the two strong
clear signatures of de Lamerie himself.
Silversmiths were often illiterate and so signatures rarely
existed, with official recorders presiding over their registration.
"To find one at all is unusual," said Alexis Butcher, "but to find
one belonging to the greatest silversmith of the 18th century is
The buyer's premium was 15 per cent plus VAT.