Following a successful conclusion to one of the largest cases of its type in years, a serial forger has been jailed for the faking and forging of antique silver flatware. Here ATG publish material accumulated during the investigation in an attempt to minimise the impact of the fakes on the spoon market.
At Snaresbrook Crown Court in London on Thursday, September 28,
Peter Ashley-Russell was sentenced to a total of three years'
imprisonment for offences under the Forgery Act 2006, including
four offences relating to the faking and forging of antique
Evidence against the fraud was provided by the Metropolitan
Police and the Antique Plate Committee (APC), the
industry-recognised body established in 1939 that examines suspect
silver items and advises Assay Office London on the authenticity of
hallmarks and illegal alterations or additions.
The second Ashley-Russell case - he received a custodial
sentence for similar activities in 1986 - has been described as the
most significant involving hallmarking deception since the infamous
Lyon and Twinam case of the
late Victorian era.
Police were first alerted to the fakes in 2002 following the
submission to the Antique Plate Committee of ten suspect pieces
(five marrow scoops and five trefid spoons) from three sources -
Stansted auctioneers Sworders, Lewes auctioneers Gorringes and a
West Country dealer.
However, it was not until Spring 2007 that the Metropolitan
Police's Specialist Crime Operations team, led by Detective
Constable Tim Duffin, raided a property in Beckton, East London. In
one bedroom they found a silversmith's workshop and seized a number
of pieces of silver plus 55 fake punches that consisted of town
marks, date letters and makers' marks all purporting to be from the
late 17th to the early 18th centuries. Ashley-Russell, an
ex-student at Taunton College of Art and an erstwhile printer with
a knowledge of metal type, admitted making them.
After the police raid in 2007, the APC convened an extraordinary
committee meeting, subjecting 150 pieces to a combination of
objective scientific measurement methods, connoisseurship and the
extensive records retained by The Worshipful Company of
All who have handled the material describe it as very convincing
and the work of a professional forger. One spoon alone does not
raise many questions: it is only when a group can be studied
together that similarities in the engraving and marks cause
suspicions to be aroused.
Some are thought to be Stuart period spoons with rubbed marks
subsequently 'improved', while others were total fabrications. The
raid on the house in East London uncovered forks in a number of
stages of production, from a beaten ingot to others awaiting marks
and finishing. The fraudulent activities also included the
conversion of spoons to forks (to increase their value), while
there were also two Georgian coffee pots awaiting modifications,
including applied coats of arms and new marks.
Woolley & Wallis silver specialist Alex Butcher, a
recognised expert on spoons and - importantly for the purposes of
this case - not a full member of the APC, was called as an expert
witness. While Ashley-Russell had admitted the offences at an
earlier court appearance in April, he was disputing the potential
market value of the items he had created.
In a so-called Newton hearing (one where the defendant has
admitted guilt but disputes the facts of the case), Mr Butcher
provided convincing evidence that Ashley-Russell's valuation of the
39 pieces at around £5000 should be increased at least
The size of Ashley-Russell's fraud is not yet known, although it
is possible it was on a larger scale than his endeavours in the
1980s that caused fissures through the spoon market.
While this prosecution was formed around 39 pieces, he is also
known to have had an eBay account, regularly listing silver
flatware. It is thought that more than 450 items were offered on
eBay but - as the police wished to avoid a costly and
time-consuming High Court appearance to obtain a production order
that would have allowed them to look at eBay and PayPal accounts -
they did not form part of the case. The whereabouts of much of this
material sold online remains unknown.
Accordingly, the silver trade are keen for as much information
to be made public as soon as possible. Petworth dealer Nicholas
Shaw commented: "As a specialist dealer in spoons, I am grateful to
the police and the APC for the work they have done on this case.
Hopefully now this material can be quickly made available so that
responsible dealers can familiarise themselves with
Dr Robert Organ, deputy warden of Assay Office London, said
discussions were taking place on how "a unique and invaluable
educational resource" can be used to educate the trade on
identification of spurious antique silver plate. An exhibition and
a publication are planned although no time frame has been
However, following a request from ATG, the APC provided
information on the 55 punches seized in the raid of
A list of 23 suspect maker's marks can be found here.
The Ashley-Russell fakes are believed to be one of several
ongoing investigations into antique silver forgeries.
In July 2005, a single vendor tried to sell fake 18th and 19th
century smallwork through several auction rooms in central and
southwest England. Here the numbers were relatively small and the
quality of the material - small collector's pieces including
trefid, caddy and double-ended medicine spoons - deemed relatively
Of more concern to the silver trade are pieces of suspect
'Georgian' hollowware, including what purported to be a George I
Britannia Standard bowl and ewer that sold for £90,000 to S.J.
Phillips at Duke's of Dorchester in 2002. It was later returned
after it tested only as sterling.
The Assay Office advise anyone worried about a spoon they may
have purchased to send it to the APC for checking. Telephone 020
By Roland Arkell and Anne Crane
For a list of 23 suspect maker's marks on pieces identified as
problematic by the APC click here.
For details of the Peter
Ashley-Russell case in 1986 click here.
For details of the Lyon and
Twinam case in 1898 click here.