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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Pewter Spoons

( Original Published 1913 )



Of a fellow student, Heine wrote that "when Grabbe left home for the University, his mother put into his hands a packet which, so he told me, contained silver spoons-half a dozen tea-spoons, six little coffee-spoons, and a big soup-ladle-domestic treasures from which women of the people sadly part, for they think that silver spoons as a possession distinguish a housewife from folk who own none but spoons of pewter. When I first met Grabbe he had already pawned the soup-ladle-Goliath, as he called it-and later, if I asked him how things went with him, he would gloomily answer, ` I am at my third spoon,' or ` I am at my fourth spoon.' Once he said with a sigh that the big ones were going, and it would be very short commons for him when he came to the little coffee-spoons, and when they were gone, there would be no commons at all."

But silver has cheapened, and old pewter spoons are worth more than new silver spoons to-day. The authority on old pewter writes that " spoons are now too valuable to be allowed to lie about in an unprotected condition." By the authority I mean Mr. Masse, whose " Chats on Old Pewter " (Unwin, 5s. net) is the handiest and best cheap book on the subject which a collector can possess.

Chasten Your Zeal. But let no enthusiast beginner exclaim to himself, " Why, I saw a pewter spoon in a little shop the other day ! " and rush off to buy it. Because the odds are that it will be a spoon or ladle made of Britannia metal or lead, and not antique at all. I am not here referring to fakes (there are plenty of them about), but to material, and space forbids dis sertation upon the differences between true pewter, lead, German metal and Britannia metal, and other amalgams. Metallurgy is a more difficult guide than the shape.

Bowls and Stems. The old pewterers copied the shapes which the old silversmiths used; though old pewter spoons were not hall-marked and bear no dateletter, you may define their dates roughly by their shapes. Do not expect to find pewter spoons of very early periods. Just as Tudor and Jacobean silver became nearly all of it melted down, to be coined, so pewter spoons of earlier date than the fifteenth century have been worn out, for pewter is very perishable. I suppose we all know William and Mary, Queen Anne, and Georgian silver by its shape, when we see it ; look for the same kind of guide when you go hunting for old pewter spoons.And, first, the bowls ; there is something quaint and unsymmetrical about most of them. Often the outline of the bowl resembles that of a tennis-racket ; sometimes it resembles that of an elm-leaf, non-serrated ; sometimes it is almost circular; sometimes it has the outline of a plover's egg. Ladle-bowls are more regular in shape, more like the ladle-bowls in use today, but larger, as a rule, and set at an acuter angle with the stem, which joins the bowl more awkwardly. The old spoon-bowls were more in the plane of the stem, and shallower, than is the case with the silver or plated spoons made today.

As to the stems, they are usually shorter than their modern successors, and look disproportionately so, and are neither flat nor round, because pewter-ware was finished by hammering, as, though the stem might have been cast round enough, hammering squared it a little. The stems of spoons made to-day are flat ; the section of a seventeenth-century pewter spoon will be square or rhomboidal; there is something a little angular as well as solid about the stem of an old pewter spoon.

Knops. We have all seen old or modern " apostlespoons," of base metal or silver; the " apostle" figure is the knop of the spoon-the knob at the top of the stem. Rat-tailed silver spoons are greatly hunted for ; so are rat-tailed pewter spoons. A true rat-tailed spoon has no knop, its stem tails off to a blunt point; but spoons with a tapering ridge running under the stem are also called rat-tailed, so that a " rattailed " spoon may have a flat knop, large, and rounded oblong in outline.

The knops most often found on pewter spoons are the ball, the seal, the acorn ; there are also the rattail, the diamond-point, the lion, the melon, the hexagonal, the strawberry, and the deer-foot. The " apostle " and the " maiden-headed " or " doublehorn-headed " knops are excessively rare ; the two latter figure a woman's head and head-dress, with single or double raised coif, in the fashion of the early fifteenth century. Sometimes the knop of a ladle will have a short, sharp bend away from the plane of the stem.

As a rule, pewter spoons are clumsily large, almost wooden-spoon-like in dimensions. Do not expect to find them of coffee-spoon or even tea-spoon size. And do not expect to find many in any size. A dozen is quite a collection.

The little curio-shops are full of forged pewter spoons, that seem all right in metal and colours, but the shape of the handle or stem, the finish, the hammering, and the aged appearance are all defective or wanting.