Rare silver spoons dating back more than 400 years expect to sell for thousands of pounds at Honiton auction

A collection of early West Country silver spoons – some rare, dating back to the reign of Elizabeth I – will be at auction in Honiton on Saturday (December 4).

The Charles C Brian Collection, for sale at Chilcotts Auctioneers, in 40 lots, is expected to fetch between £20,000 and £30,000.

Jennifer Bell, Chilcotts’ silver specialist, said: “Spoons of this period were personal possessions, carried with you and used at mealtimes wherever you were.

“Cutlery sets and laying the table didn’t begin until well into the 18th century.

“These spoons were given as gifts, usually when a child was born, or at marriages.

“Silver was only affordable to the wealthiest families; to own a silver spoon was a sign of high status and the origin of the popular phrase ‘born with a silver spoon in their mouth’.

“Many of the spoons in the collection bear the initials and dates of their recipients.”

She added: “This is a fine collection of spoons with a good provenance. Mr Brian was careful to collect examples with good clear marks. It is not uncommon to see a few good early examples in a sale but to have the opportunity to sell such an unusually large collection is a real privilege.

“It’s been fascinating to catalogue them and to see up close how spoons changed over the centuries, often being influenced by the wider social and political situation of the time.

“For example, during the Civil War period, the characteristic crowned ‘X’ of the Exeter town mark was often shown lacking the crown- clearly showing the maker to be on the side of Parliament.”

The auction house, in Honiton High Street, said The Charles C Brian Collection was amassed over many years by Mr Brian – combining his love of Plymouth and Devon with his interest in early silver.

Included in the sale is:

  • A James I Lion Sejant – the finial or top of the spoon cast in the form of a seated lion – made circa 1610 by William Bartlett of Exeter, which has engraved betrothal initials ‘EB and SW’ and dated 1639. It has a pre-sale estimate of £1,500 – £2,000.
  • A rare ‘Puritan’ spoon dating from the Civil War period. It carries an estimate of £800 – £1,200. It is also marked as once being a part of the ‘Breadalbane Collection’ of Gavin Campbell, 1st Marquess of Breadalbane, who was an important Victorian collector of silver.
  • The collection moves through the Queen Anne and William and Mary reigns into the start of the Georgian period in the eighteenth century with Trefid, Dognose and early Hanoverian pattern examples. Estimate for these range from £50 – £500, the auction house said.

A selection from the West Country silver spoons.
Photo: Chilcotts Auctioneers.

For collectors of early spoons, the auctioneers said the West Country examples were ‘particularly interesting and mostly rare’.

Those with the town mark for Plymouth are ‘of particular note’ as the demand for silver grew in the city in line with its growing prosperity through the development of the port during the Tudor and Stuart periods.

The auction house said once the regional assay (hallmarking) office opened in Exeter in 1701, most Plymouth silversmiths – along with makers from other West Country centres such as Barnstaple and Taunton – registered their marks at Exeter.

A spokeswoman for the auction house said: “The regional town marks then all became standardised and replaced with the Exeter hallmarks.

“Silver items with local town marks such as Plymouth are therefore early, rare and very desirable to collectors.”

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