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Rare American Silver Spoons

IT SEEMS UNLIKELY today that clearly marked spoons by American silversmiths of the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries should be found in an old shoe box with an assortment of much later and very battered silver. But that is just what happened only a few years ago when two spoons, were found. Fortunately, most people who buy old silver as scrap metal know enough about the marks of silversmiths to sort out such pieces before the balance is sent to an assayer to be melted down as scrap metal. But there is always the chance that fine old pieces may go unappreciated to the melting pot. Hence the importance of studying the marks on spoons and knowing what they mean.

Between 1645 and 1753. Spoons of this period have distinct style characteristics. The bowls are either egg-shaped or oval, usually with a raised and tapered ornamental device on the back known as a "rat-tail." The handles end in either a trifid, or in a cartouche.

Spoons range in size from the condiment to the tablespoon. Teaspoons are the most numerous, the early ones being very small. The silversmith's touchmark is usually found on the back of the handle a short distance from where it joins the bowl, or it may be on the inside of the bowl. This mark is often two initials, especially on early examples, but may be initial and surname. Incidentally, "J" is always written "I" as may be noted with these particular spoons where the Christian name of three out of the five makers begins with a "J."

The spoon on the right bears the mark "IC" in a heart-shape with fleur-de-lis below and is that of John Coney, a Boston silversmith, who lived from 1656 to 1722. His contemporary, Jeremiah Dummer, also of Boston (1645-1718), made the condiment spoon in the center and put his mark "ID" on the inside of the bowl. These initials may be in a small rectangle or in a heart with fleur-de-lis below. At the left of the condiment spoon is a teaspoon by Jacob Boelen of New York (1654-1729). His mark is partially worn away but still shows part of a shield with initials "IB." Single teaspoons by these three men have sold at auction at from $300 to $500. The two remaining examples have brought somewhat less. The second spoon from the right, bearing the mark "N. HURD" in a rectangle, was made by Nathaniel Hurd of Boston (1729-1777), a well-known and highly regarded craftsmen in his time and with collectors today. The spoon at the extreme left which bears the touch-mark of Edward Winslow of Boston (1669-1753), brought less than one hundred dollars at auction a few years ago. Ironically, a sweetmeat dish bearing his mark "EW" in shield with fleur-de-lis below was considered fine enough in his day to be sent as a gift to England where it compared favorably with the best work of London craftsmen.

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