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Silver Caddy Ladles
( Article orginally published December 1962 )
Forerunner of the caddy spoon was the domed cover of the rectangular tea canister with which the fashionable hostess of Georgian England measured costly tea leaves into the teapot, while a servant stood ready with a silver kettle of boiling water to pour over them. When such tops were superseded by hinges and sliding lids, stemmed ladles were introduced to spoon the tea into the pot.
At first the ladle consisted of a deep, escallop shell bowl, from the rim of which a stern rose almost at right angles, its finial matching those of the accompanying teaspoons. To the back of the stem might be soldered a wide hook by which it was suspended on a similar silver hook within the tea chest where the silver tea canisters were locked. Occasionally the handle might be of black stained boxwood, ebony, or ivory.
The vase-shaped tea canister of the mid-18th century, with wide opening, and upward curving D-handles, might be accompanied by a ladle hanging by its scroll finial, its stem following the curve of the canister body. (In sets of three, the bowl of the ladle accompanying the larger canister, intended for sugar, was perforated.)
For use with these wide-mouthed canisters, short stemmed tea scoops were introduced-some, hand raised from the plate, have been noted with an unusually early 1760 hallmark. By the 1770s, silver tea scoops were invariably kept in the canister, lying loosely on top of the tea, and were necessarily short stemmed.
The earliest use of the name "caddy ladle" so far noted appears in the Assay Act of 1790, its presence there proof of everyday usage. "Caddie shells" were advertised by silversmiths as late as 1830; not until 1860 were they known as "caddy spoons."
The earliest caddy ladle bowls were shaped as shallow escallop shells with a broad, flat thumbpiece or handle, the whole being cut and raised in a single piece from the plate. The shell flutings were exquisitely worked and the thumbpiece usually engraved with a crest or cypher on the reverse. From about 1780 the thumbpiece might be enriched with bright cut engraving. A typical scallop shell caddy ladle made at this period measured three inches in length and one and a half inches in width, and weighed ten pennyweights.
The majority of caddy ladles, however, were made by the factory silversmiths from rolled silver plate; laborious hand-raising of the bowl giving way to more speedy mechanical shaping. Prices were drastically reduced, and for half a century to come silver caddy ladles were considered dainty trifles to give as inexpensive presents. By 1789 the shaping of caddy ladles had become a specialist branch of silversmithing. The evidence of hallmarks show that the majority were made in Birmingham, less frequently in Sheffield, London, and Dublin.
Factory-made caddy ladles were shaped by gradual raising in a hand operated ball press using tools made from hard crucible steel, not widely available until the early 1790s. In some instances bowl and thumbpiece were pressed in a single entity; more frequently the bowl was shaped in the press, the handle made separately and joined to it by hard soldering a Roman joint.
Sheffield platers were soon competing with smooth bowled and shellshaped ladles, inciting silversmiths to more originality in their patterns. Plated caddy ladles were necessarily bordered with narrow beading or thread molding, so this feature was quickly abandoned by the silversmiths. Fashionable silver caddy ladles were now designed to be as unlike conventional spoons as possible -embossed, fluted, engraved, chased, bright-cut, or left severely plain. Some were gilt, but these are rarely found as tea leaves adversely affected the gilding.
Early caddy ladles in sterling silver are hallmarked for they were never exempt from hallmarking as were the majority of small articles of silver weighing five pennyweights. It is unusual to find a caddy ladle struck with a hallmark earlier than the introduction of the monarch's head duty mark on December 1st, 1784.
The ambition of every caddy ladle collector is to possess an example of the rare eagle pattern. These were designed and made by Joseph Taylor, Birmingham, in the early 1790s. Hand raised from a single piece of plate, the bowl is shaped as an eagle's body, the neck forming the handle and terminating in the bird's head with a brilliantly burnished eye. Delicate embossing and chasing of the bowl suggest plumage. A second series, shaped by press tools and poorly finished, bears hallmarks of the 1830s. A third series, excellently worked, belongs to the present century, but these are immediately recognized by absence of the hallmark.
The jockey cap, now also rare, is an attractive tea ladle; the cap itself, with a tiny bowl of silver wire at the back, acted as the scoop, the visor as a thumbpiece. Like the eagle, this pattern has been copied in the present century. On Georgian examples the hallmark was struck on the visor; in modern versions the hallmark is struck on the back of the cap and does not include a monarch's head duty stamp. An attractive series of jockey caps was hand worked in silver filigree; the finest of these bear hallmarks of the 1830s; less careful versions were made in the 1850s.
The half closed hand is another scarce variant, the thumbpiece consisting of a flat wrist engraved with the suggestion of a lace cuff. An embossed design incorporating a group of war trophies, such as a standard, pennon, cannon and ramming irons, drum and fife, bayonet and sword, appears on a series of caddy ladles made in Birmingham between 1804 and 1815. The thumbpiece is usually engraved with the name of a naval or military victory and a date, "Trafalgar" and "Nelson" have been noted in script letters. The earliest example noted dates to 1804.
Caddy ladles embossed with fruiting vine patterns are many, hallmarks dating them from the early 1790s to the early 1820s. The handle was in silver wire shaped as a vine tendril. These caddy ladles were first issued as a fashionable accessory for use at the after-dinner tea table where cordials were served to the ladies.
The escallop shell form appears in innumerable sizes and outlines throughout the period but were particularly fashionable in the late 18th century and again in early Victorian days. An exquisite series was made by Joseph Taylor during the 1790s and early in the 19th century in which the wide flutes of a shell-shaped ladle were delicately embossed in an all over design of floral sprays.
In rare early instances a handle is found bordered with narrow beading or thread molding, as with Sheffield plate. Fiddle-shaped handles date from about 1805. So fragile were some 18th century caddy ladles that the bowl stem junction was liable to fracture in careless use. Such breakages have often been invisibly repaired although careful inspection through a magnifying glass will reveal traces of this.