Silver and Plate - Part 2

Of the earlier pieces of silver not a great number have survived, and most of them are in churches, museums or otherwise unlikely to come on the open market. Enormous quantities were melted down during the Civil War, and the majority of old examples to be seen for sale are not older than the last quarter of the seventeenth century. Following the restoration of the monarchy, wealthy men set about replacing their possessions, and great quantities of silverware were made. Much of it was the work of refugees who had come to England recently from the Continent, whence they had fled from religious persecution. Among these Huguenot craftsmen are numbered: Paul de Lamerie, Augustine Courtauld, Pierre Harache and Simon Pantin, recognized for their high standards of workmanship.

The design of silverware was subject to many of the same influences that affected the design of other articles in the home. Turned legs on chairs are reflected in the baluster stems of candlesticks; cabriole legs appear in miniature as supports for cream-jugs and sauce-boats; Chinese patterns were moulded or engraved on articles of all kinds, and teapots and caddies have knobs in the form of squatting Orientals; Adam husks and rams1 heads were moulded or embossed, or delicately engraved; and Paul Storr, the early nineteenth-century silversmith, employed the varied fantasies of the Regency either individually or all at the same time.

Changes in domestic customs had an equally marked result. The introduction of tea and coffee drinking at the end of the seventeenth century had a big effect on silversmithing, and called forth a great variety of pieces. Early teapots were modelled on those imported of Chinese porcelain or Yi-hsing red stoneware; later silver ones, in turn, affected the shape of porcelain and pottery teapots. Cream-jugs, sugar-basins, teaspoons and caddies all came into being with the spreading popularity of the drink. Wine-labels were first used in the mid-eighteenth century, when glass decanters elegant enough for the dining- table were made.

Fish slices were known at about the same time, but the forks to accompany them did not appear until about 1800. Much can be learned of the customs of our ancestors from a study of the subject, and many of the things they used have been in continual employment since they were made.

Eighteenth-century Scottish and Irish silver has its devotees, and much is of excellent workmanship. Often it has an admirable simplicity of line, but most resembles closely the English wares of the period and it is, of course, rarer. Pieces from both of these countries were marked in a manner similar to those of England, but with letters and symbols that clearly indicate their origin.

Collectable Antiques: