The city of Newcastle enjoyed a long gold and silversmithing tradition. The earliest records of the craft on the Tyne date from 1249 (the appointment of assayers at the local mint), while five silversmiths are mentioned in founding of the Newcastle Guild of Handicrafts in the 14th century.
A town mark, expressed by one or three castles, was used on items made in the city from the 17th century. However, it was not until 1702 that an official assay office with a date lettering system was opened. It functioned until 1884.
Some of this early history was told through pieces offered for sale in London and Somerset in the autumn.
The most successful silver and vertu sale yet at Chiswick Auctions (25% buyer’s premium) on October 30 included a late 17th century porringer bearing the Newcastle town mark made by the short-lived Tyneside silversmith Abraham Hamer.
Hamer served the final two years of his seven-year apprenticeship with the well-known workshop of Eli Bilton and produced pieces with his own mark, AH with a pellet above the A, from 1690. He died just seven years later.
One of the 29 items on offer from the well-known collection of the late Anthony Aston Smith, this porringer with the early presentation inscription The Gift of Thomas and Susannah Forster was first recorded in 1897 and last on the market in March 1960 when Aston Smith paid £34 for it at Christie’s. Estimated at £4000-6000 at Chiswick, it sold to a British private collector for £6500.
Eighteenth century ecclesiastical silver is not always easy to sell but three pieces offered at Lawrences (25% buyer’s premium) of Crewkerne on October 20 all carried Newcastle marks from the embryonic years of the town’s assay office.
They had previously formed part of the Communion plate from St Mary-The-Lesser, an ancient Durham church in the historic Bailey area of the city and now a chapel in St John’s College.
A 7½in (19cm) wafer tazza and 9in (23cm) tall Communion cup both carried the mark of Eli Bilton and the date letter A with a mullet – the first official dating stamp used by the assay office in 1702.
An 11½in (28.5cm) tall flagon featuring a domed cover with a volute thumb piece had the similar date letter F for 1707 and the maker Jonathan French. Each was inscribed Ecclesia Sancta Maria Ballivi Austrat Dunelm Ex dono Cuthberti Bowes, Jan 1702.
The tazza sold within estimate at £3600, the cup went a shade below expectations at £2800 and the flagon sold on the upper £6000 estimate.
Great Yarmouth beaker
Underpinned by English rarities, a strong showing of overseas material and pieces from the post-war revival, autumn silver sales made a fine country-wide showing.
The Aston Smith collection at Chiswick yielded a previously unrecorded c.1675-80 plain tapering beaker marked for Thomas Hutchinson. Silversmiths in the extensive Hutchinson family are recorded in the Norwich, Colchester and Chelmsford areas but only Thomas (active 1675-99) worked from Great Yarmouth.
A small number of spoons made in the Norfolk town are known but the 3½in (9cm) tall tapering cylindrical beaker with everted lip and caulked rim on moulded foot is only the third piece of Yarmouth hollow ware known. Pitched at £5000-8000, it sold to an East Anglian collector at £6000.
Top-seller at the 481-lot auction, which totalled £220,000, was a set of four 6¼in (16cm) tall, London 1725, Britannia-standard candlesticks.
They were of an unusual design with four portrait masks of imperial figures to the baluster section and were by a little-known London maker, Arthur Dicken, recorded as working in the Strand between 1720-24.
However, the major attraction appears to have been the coat of arms for a significant name in Welsh history: the fourth and last Baron Mansel of Margam, Glamorgan (1697-1750).
The sticks last appeared on the market at Sotheby’s five years ago when they made £10,500 hammer. At Chiswick they went to a Welsh collector at the lower-estimate £15,000, demonstrating, said Chiswick specialist John Rogers, “that there is measurable demand for top-tier silver items that have important and contemporaneous heraldic engraving”.
The biggest surprise of the sale came among a substantial section of foreign silver: a c.1987 15¾in (40cm) tall silver, niello, gold and enamel photograph frame by Thai Nakon of Bangkok.
A typical royal gift (it was presented to Justin Staples, the UK’s ambassador to Thailand from 1981-86), it housed an autopen-signed photograph of King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great (1927-2016) and Queen Sirikit. King Bhumibol, who reigned for 80 years, remains revered in Thailand. Pitched at £400-600, the frame and photograph sold to a private international bidder at £6000.
At Lawrences more than 80% of the 700 lots got away for a hammer total of £312,000.
Topping the sale was a c.1600-30 Dutch or German globe pomander. The 2½in (6cm) high piece, ciselé engraved with flowers, has a screw-top section opening to reveal engraved and numbered compartments with slide covers.
Unmarked save for three small French 19th century control marks, the documented piece with a sound provenance sold within estimate to the London trade at £9500.
The premium put on any artefact from Malta was demonstrated by the competition for an 18th century coffee pot. Standing 8½in (22cm) tall, it was made in the Italian style with three hoofed feet and a cast fruit finial to the domed cover. The wooden handle has a volute thumbpiece struck twice with a small pelleted mark and once with MA and a cross. Against a £1500-2000 estimate it went back overseas at £7500 via thesaleroom.com.
From further afield came a 13½in (34.3cm) long Meiji box struck twice with the jungin (pure silver mark) and decorated in relief with dragons, the one on the top clutching a seed pearl.
The fitted wood-lined interior enclosed various English dressing table items but the box sold on its own merits, more than doubling top expectations when it went to a private UK buyer at £5200.