Friday, October 7, 2011

Silver Desire: My London Booty

P1000862(1) Detail Apollo Flaying Marsyas by Antonio Corradini, 1719-23, marble, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

On my recent trip to London I did not visit the extraordinary London Silver Vaults as I had done in 2010.  I would have loved to have seen Mr. David Shure again, the elegant dealer with the posh accent and pink cuff linked shirt who sold me a gorgeous sterling tea strainer hallmarked Walker & Hall, Sheffield, 1935.  (Read about my visit here.)

P1010096 Tea Strainer

Instead on this trip I decided to find other venues that sold silver. My lovely friend Sarah, herself a dealer here in New York City of American Aesthetic silverplate and English Aesthetic pottery (Visit her online Trocadero store for fabulous finds.) suggested that I go to the antique market at Bermondsey.  The market is located near London Bridge and is know for having good silver.

The Bermondsey Market starts at about 4am and ends around 1pm and is held only on Fridays.  Since I was staying in Brentford, I would have to take a commuter train to Waterloo Station and then the Jubilee tube line to London Bridge.  So, I took at 6:09am train to Waterloo and I arrived at the market at 7am.

Bermondsey is a small market full of quality stuff and friendly dealers.  There was a great deal of silver on offer as well as jewelry, porcelain, antique drawings, yet silver, sterling and plate was predominant.  My first purchase was from a lovely dealer named Sallie who also has a stall on Portobello Road.  She had some beautiful things especially a great selection of silver handled paper knives with ivory blades. Gorgeous.

A pierced ladle grabbed my attention.  It was a large sugar sifter or saupoudreuse, literally “sprinkler” in French, for sprinkling sugar or powdered sugar on berries or cakes.  The piercing on the bowl is in the form of flowers and leaf sprigs and is just magnificent.  The handle has a nice shield cartouche with an elaborate at least 3 letter monogram.

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Looking at the marks on the sifter, I realized the piece was French sterling.  Sallie said she believed it was late 19th century, circa 1880, but I had a hunch that it was perhaps a bit earlier.  So, I bought the sifter for a good price.

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Back in New York I researched the marks.  French sterling usually has an assay mark of the head of Ceres or Minerva which was a guarantee for large items assayed in Paris.  The ladle did have the Ceres head seen at the top of the photograph on the right.  It also had another head mark called a Michelangelo or more commonly Le Viellard, The Old Man.  It is the third mark done in the photograph.  The Old Man denoted the purity of the piece to be .950 silver which is higher than the sterling standard of .925.

When these 2 marks appear together  it indicates a date of  1819-1838.  Also, the Le Viellard mark only appears during that Bourbon Restoration period. 

Yet, who was the maker of the sugar sifter?  There is another small mark between the heads, unevenly struck and rubbed, of a hammer and crescent.  Additionally, there is a C & D letter mark below The Old Man mark.  At first I thought the C & D marks were the maker’s initials, but could not find a corresponding match on a silver hallmark site online. 

So, I turned to my colleagues at SMPub, a wonderful silver website that has a multitude of forums on all aspects and types of silver.  I posted my query and pictures of the sifter and learned that the small, rubbed mark of the hammer and crescent was, indeed, the maker’s mark and the C & D marks were actually the initials of the owner, a common practice in French silver. 

The hammer/crescent mark indicates the work of Jean-Baptiste-Vast Harleux (What a fabulous name!!!) who was in business in Paris from 1824 to 1875.  This mark was only used until 1834.  Therefore, my sugar sifter narrowed down further in date to the 10 year period from 1824-1834.  My hunch proved correct and now I have my first piece of French silver, a saupoudreuse, and it is a beauty!

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The next item I bought at Bermondsey was a beautiful reticulated and floral engraved English sterling bon bon dish in the shape of a shell.  I love the shell motif in silver and have several examples of this design from different periods, but this item was my first shell of English origin.  The piece is hallmarked Martin, Hall & Co. (a good maker), Sheffield, 1899. 

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Besides its beauty, it is a little confection, it appeals to me also as a piece of silver made at the very end of the Victorian period.  In 15 short years, the 19th century will truly end, its idealism, its rationality, its sense of progress (all fictitious of course) all destroyed, all imploded  with the advent of The Great War.

server Besides Bermondsey, I also went earlier in my London trip to Grays Antiques off Bond Street in London.  If you are looking for a wonderful piece of antique or vintage jewelry, this is the place to go.  There are 2-3 silver dealers at Grays and my favorite is Arnold of AMS Antiques.  (Stop in and tell him The Antique Flâneur sent you.)  He has a good collection of English silverplate and sterling.  I had visited him in 2010 and bought a plate engraved server which like my new shell dish was made by Martin, Hall & Co.

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This visit I found a gorgeous silverplate pierced cream jug on a tripod base with paw feet with a foliate scroll handle and a hand-blown ruby red glass liner.  It is rare to find a piece with its glass liner intact.  The piece is unmarked, but probably dates to 1880-1900.

The shape of the creamer’s body is to me reminiscent of a very traditional, very Georgian helmet shaped creamer.  This correspondence suggests a later date when Edwardian restraint replaced the overindulgent fussiness of the Victorians.  Yet, a P1000972(1) typical Georgian helmet shaped creamer is usually more tapered as the body moves towards the base and ends in a pedestal base not feet.  And it has a handle that extends beyond the body of the creamer.  In contrast, the tripod feet emanating from double  shield cartouches and terminating in paw feet of my creamer seems to me more suggestive of the Victorian era, yet the foliate scroll handle is more traditional.

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Either way in terms of date, it is a great piece and goes nicely with a George V sterling sugar basket also with a hand-blown ruby glass liner in my collection.  Read about this piece here.  Though not a pair, there is a nice dialogue between these 2 silver items that pleases me.  I look forward to using this married pair at my next silver dessert soirée.

My trip to London allowed me to add some wonderful pieces to my silver collection.  I look forward to returning to London next year and finding more silver booty.  Bermondsey awaits…

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