ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
article # 210
by Maurice Meslans
(click on photos to enlarge image)


Sometimes marks just don't make any sense. Anyone studying marks has a collection of unknowns; often they aren't on expensive items. Some people, "experts", like to say that any marks they don't know or understand are just fakes. Dealers often just ignore the question as not worth answering or bothering with.
Personally, while I like discovering information on an expensive piece of silver, sometimes it is as much fun researching an unusual mark on something less expensive such as a spoon. In fact there is an argument that says small items are less likely faked than large pieces. Why would someone bother faking a cheap item?
This two decanter labels are an example of interesting study pieces. They weigh a total of 1.1 troy oz. and are 6.6 cm wide.
They have a mark which can only be a copy of that of the partnership of Thomas Wallis II & Jonathan Hayne from 1810.

Here are real marks from the partnership:

But a careful examination of the maker's mark and all the control marks shows each is wrong in some way, or to some degree. Copying a known silversmith's mark is rare, with some exceptions. The Chinese sometimes copied western maker's marks along with control marks, probably more to give the impression that they were silver rather than real forgeries, as some Chinese silver was very high purity. When I started in the business the British were still destroying Chinese Export silver because of their "fake" marks.
An analysis, not mine, of the Rye and Whiskey, points to America as the spelling of the latter would refer to Irish Whiskey in Britain, and Rye is really an American drink. Of course some Canadian and some US silversmiths in the 19th century used pseudo hallmarks, again more to suggest the quality of the silver than to cheat the client into thinking they were of British origin. But I don't remember ever seeing a mark on Canadian or American silver that actually copied another silversmith's mark, let alone that of a partnership. Looking at the marks again more closely: they are individually struck and each well cut, but the errors are inexplicable, or nearly so. The maker's mark is good enough and close enough to the real one, except for the spacing in the cartouche. The sovereign's head is actually better than most American pseudo marks. The lion is not bad at all, nor is the P except for the shape of the cartouche. What stands out is the Leopard's head, which looks nothing like any animal's head. It appears as if the die cutter didn't know the original was a Leopard's head. It would seem rather unlikely that an Anglophone would make such a mistake. This would normally throw me back to Chinese Export, after all the engraving could have been supplied by, or even done by an American. The problem is the marks seem too well cut to be Chinese, and in addition the person I look upon as the most knowledgeable dealer in this field says he has never seen the marks.
To be more complete, I had the quality of the metal tested. It is .940 fine silver. This only tells us that the maker wasn't actually cheating on quality.
To summarize, a person, probably not British or North American, took the time to have 4 well cut stamps made. He then copied a very nice pair of bottle tickets, or perhaps just designed them himself, not expensive items at any time, using a quality of silver higher than the marks chosen would indicate. Despite all this, he would have to be an idiot if he thought the marks would fool anyone. Finally, in the 40 years I have owned these I have never seen the marks again, nor has anyone who has read about them on the internet. I have my doubts they are "fakes" any more than Chinese Export silver is "fake".

To steal from Rodgers and Hammerstein, "a puzzlement".

Maurice Meslans
- 2016 -