Promising to rank among the auction highlights of the summer, Christie’s are to sell the fabled Benson collection of early spoons on June 4.
Assembled over many years by the dealer,
expert and advisor Jane Penrice How (née Benson), the incomparable
group of silver spoons from the Roman period to the 17th century
have been on loan to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford since
Harry Williams-Bulkeley, European head of
Christie's silver department, who has been instructed to sell by
the How family, describes the collection as "the Holy Grail for
spoon collectors" and anticipates it will realise in excess of
The 45 spoons and one fork, formally
published last year in David Constable's detailed work, The
Benson Collection of Early Spoons, include rarities such as a
Henry VI spoon with a Wodewose or wild man finial (one of only four
known, it is estimated at £40,000-60,000) and a set of six Edward
IV parcel-gilt silver Apostle spoons from the 15th century (among
the earliest extant and estimated at £150,000-250,000).
Another survivor from some of the most
turbulent eras of British history is an acorn-knop spoon that
pre-dates the hallmarking system established by Edward III in 1300
(estimate £8000-12,000) and a diamond-point spoon from c.1350
(estimate: £30,000-50,000), which is struck with one of the
earliest representations of the leopard's head, the first English
Williams-Bulkeley said he was not aware of
any institutional attempts to buy the collection. Instead the sale
provides a unique opportunity for connoisseurs and new collectors
around the world to acquire rare historical spoons with an
Jane Penrice How (1915-2004), known as "Ben"
to her friends, and simply as "Mrs How' to acquaintances, was a
character that none who knew her will forget. A long-standing
member of the Antique Plate Committee at Goldsmiths Hall, where her
forthright opinions were aired with some regularity, she met her
husband, Commander George Evelyn Paget How, when cataloguing the
Ellis spoon collection for Sotheby's in 1935.
Together, they built up a formidable
dealership, How of Edinburgh (which had moved to the heart of the
West End before the War) that was the training ground for a whole
generation of silver dealers. Tom Lumley, Hugh Jessop, John
Bourdon-Smith and Brand Inglis all worked for How at some time in
Mrs How's lengthy obituary in The
Times also remembered her wide-ranging enthusiasms: wine,
opera, fishing, shooting, edged weapons, beekeeping, dogs, cricket
Woolley & Wallis of Salisbury conducted
the How of Edinburgh stock sale in October 2007 -
a single-owner catalogue totalling £550,000.
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