ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver

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by Giovanni Ciceri
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STRANGE CASE OF BATEMAN FAMILY AND MR. OLLIVANT
TOLD BY A CRUET SET OF THE LATE 18TH CENTURY

I'm describing a George III cruet set by Peter and Ann Bateman (PA over AB), fully hallmarked for London 1799, with the maker mark overstruck by that of Thomas Ollivant (TO).

About this cruet set

This cruet set is typical of the period between the end of XVIII and the beginning of the XIX century. The round and pierced stand in fashion in the third quart of the XVIII century, which design was derived from the contemporary wine coaster but of bigger dimension to contain cruet bottles, moved to an oval shape in the eighty's years, with a reduced piercing work substituted by a bright cut engraving decoration.




By the end of the century the piercing was definitively lost and the oval stand took the typical boat shape as in this example. In the meantime the hosted bottles increased in number from the usually five of the earliest examples to eight, including little bottles dedicated to specific popular sauces.



The silver mounted bottles of the set include a mustard pot, two big bottles for oil and vinegar, two pepper or spice bottles and four smaller sauce bottles. All the bottles are mounted with a good gauge of silver and are typical of the period, with a not too sharp cut glass work.



It is not easy to find a cruet set of this period with all the original bottles and with all the pieces bearing matching hallmarks. The set is in very good condition with only a couple of small repairs to the collars and some small bit of chipping. The bright cut decoration is in good condition but the engraving edges is a little rounded.

The stand is fully hallmarked for London 1799 on the base and on the rack with the maker mark TO for Thomas Ollivant, overstruck on that of Peter & Ann Bateman. It has a walnut wooden base, rare to find, being usually made of mahogany. It is 21 cm long, 13 cm wide and 27 cm tall and weighs an overall 512 g. The total weight including bottles is 1915 g.


London 1799 hallmark on the base London 1799 hallmark on the base
London 1799 hallmark on the base

London 1799 hallmark on the rack London 1799 hallmark on the rack
London 1799 hallmark on the rack


If you look at the two maker marks on the stand base it is quite easily to understand what was the original maker marks overstruck by Thomas Ollivant: in the photo on the left under the mark TO one can read PB and in that on the right it is visible AB, the remaining part of the mark registered in 1791 by Peter & Ann Bateman (PB over AB).

The tallest bottles are 17 -18 cm high and about 4.5 cm across the base. Oil and vinegar bottles are hallmarked inside the lid with the lion passant and the maker mark TO that seem to be overstruck to another mark. One is apparently unmarked on the collar, the other one is hallmarked for London 1799 with the maker marks rubbed.


TO hallmark overstruck inside bottle lid TO hallmark overstruck inside bottle lid
TO hallmark overstruck inside bottle lid


The peppers are hallmarked on the rim of the lid for London 1799 with the maker mark TO partially rubbed.

hallmark on pepper rim
Hallmark on pepper rim


The oval shape mustard is 12 cm tall and 4 x 6 cm at the base. It is hallmarked on the rim and on the detachable lid for London 1799, with the maker mark TO.

hallmark on mustard rim
hallmark on the detachable lid
Hallmark on mustard rim (above)
Hallmark on the detachable lid (below)


The four smaller bottles are 14 -15 cm tall and about 3 cm across the base. They are hallmarked on the rim of the lid for London 1799. The maker mark is rubbed. The stoppers are of different dimension not to be exchanged to each other.



The Bateman family business

It is not the case to describe here the history of the Batemans, being one of the most famous family of English silversmiths and their work one of the most sought after by the collectors (NOTE 1).

There are therefore different view about the real quality of the silverware crafted by the Batemans: at first by Hester Bateman and later by her sons Peter and Jonathan, her daughter in low Ann, and her grandson William. Ian Pickford (NOTE 2) defines the work of the Batemans as "run of the mill" and speaking about Hester the judgment about the quality of her work is not what a collector would expect: "Overrated, overpriced, ... mass-producer", with the only exception for her grandson William defined as " Very good, best of the Batemans".

What it is widely accepted is that Hester Bateman was a great businesswoman being able to construct a consolidated business and becoming one of the renowned silversmiths based in London of her time. Although some works by Hester Bateman and her family are indeed very fine, she was not moved by a great talent as silversmith, but by the need to continue and increase the business set up by her husband, after his dead.

She was able to impose her brand and to look at the marked as an opportunity to do business, even by crafting silverware for other silversmiths, no matter if they were renowned or simply retailers. She crafted just what the marked required: very fine silverware for selected costumers and cheaper mass production for the middle class.



Mr. Thomas Ollivant

Thomas Oliphant or Ollivant was a retailer of Manchester and although he registered an own mark (TO) at the London Assay Office as a plate-worker in May 1789, he probably was not a silversmith or at least there are many doubts that he made anything for himself. It is believed that he bought silver stock from some London silversmiths for resale, a practice that was also common to other silversmiths and retailers. Apart a few examples of items that are apparently marked by him or where the overstruck mark completely hides the original maker mark, his pieces are usually by other silversmiths.

Among all the contemporary silversmiths, he privileged items produced by the Bateman family. The overstamping covers a period of about 15 years, beginning with pieces produced and marked by Hester Bateman and continuing with items crafted by her sons and relatives who took over her business (Peter & Jonathan, Peter & Ann; Peter, Ann and William). .

There are a number of theories about the real reasons for overstrucking the maker marks. The most popular is that makers going out of business sold their stocks to other silversmiths who overstruck his own mark as the new "owner", also gaining in reputation is the items were crafted by renowned silversmiths (NOTE 3). This practice has been often reported as illegal, but this opinion is denied by a Circular from the Assay Office at the Goldsmiths' Hall, addressed to the Trade on February 14th, 1835: Omissis .... Every shopkeeper who shall strike his own mark over the workman's mark, is liable to a penalty of ten pounds, unless his own mark is entered at Goldsmiths' Hall.

It seems that Thomas Ollivant registered his mark at the London Assay Office merely to comply with the law. There is no other reason to register a mark in London rather than in Chester, the Manchester nearest Assay office. The Hester Bateman workshop in London and the Thomas Ollivant shop in Manchester were physically so far from each other for compromising the Bateman brand and to become competitors. .

In conclusion, I believe that this cruet is only an example of a business cooperation between a retailer and a renowned and prolific silversmith enterprise, on line with what can happen nowadays.


ENDNOTES

1 Read the history of the Bateman Family written by Giorgio Busetto "Hester Bateman and Bateman Family" www.silvercollection.it/BATEMAN.html

2 Ian Pickford, 1991. Pocket Edition Jackson's Hallmarks: English, Scottish, Irish Silver and Gold Marks from 1300 to Present Day. Antiques Collector's Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk (UK)

3 www.925-1000.com, hallmarks Database and Silver Research. Overstrikes and Tandem Maker's Marks. http://www.925-1000.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3549

Giovanni Ciceri
www.argentinglesi.com
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