ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
article # 213
by David McKinley
(click on photos to enlarge image)


Illustrated (I) is a spoon which has every appearance of having been buried for some time. The picture was sent to me for identification as the spoon is not hallmarked and carries only the maker's mark struck in the bowl.

Seal top spoon of about 1570
(I) Seal top spoon of about 1570

The first thing to say about it is that it is obviously a seal top and the label on it which includes the word "Puritan" is misleading. Puritan spoons were made throughout the period known as The Commonwealth but were also produced after the restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660. They are also known as stump top spoons and are recognisable by the absence of any form of decoration (II), hence the name puritan, and do not therefore have a finial as this spoon has.

Stump top or Puritan spoon of 1652
(II) Stump top or Puritan spoon of 1652
(Courtesy of Woolley & Wallis auctioneers of Salisbury)

The other undecorated spoon, with which the puritan must not be confused, is the slip top which is recognisable by the way in which the finial end is cut off at an angle (III). These spoons were made from the 15th to the 17th centuries.

Exeter slip top of 1585
(III) Exeter slip top of 1585

The English seal top spoon, of which the image in (I) is an example, was made from the early 16th century well into the 17th. It takes its name from the flat top surmounting a baluster which was cast separately and soldered onto the stem end of the spoon although there is no evidence that armorials were ever engraved on it to act as a seal.

Most of these flat "Seal" tops were round but until the latter part of the 16th century they were hexagonal in shape so that this spoon can be dated to the 16th century since it clearly has a hexagonal top. Further it is likely to be later in the century rather than earlier since earlier spoons had much more fig shaped bowls whereas the bowl on this spoon is almost round. I date it to about 1570.

The spoon was not made in London or it would have the leopard's head struck in the bowl. Although the law required that the leopard's head be struck on all wrought silver only the Goldsmiths' Company of London were assiduous in complying with this law and provincial spoons either have a town mark struck in the bowl or, on early ones, a maker's mark. Another way to tell that a spoon is of provincial make, although it is not clear in this illustration, is by the way in which the cast finial is fixed to the stem end. London made spoons had their finials soldered into a "V" notch cut into the stem end whereas the finials on provincial spoons were soldered on by means of a "lap joint".

The maker's mark struck in the bowl of this spoon is "SI". Makers usually struck their marks facing into the bowl of a spoon so that the maker in this case is unlikely to have been "IS".

Unfortunately I have been unable to identify him so that I am not able to say where this spoon was made but my guess is that it is a west country spoon, i.e. Exeter, Taunton, Bristol or Barnstable.

David McKinley
- 2017 -
David McKinley devotes much of his time to researching the history of silversmithing in England with particular reference to hallmarking at the London office. He writes for both The Silver Spoon Club of Great Britain and The Silver Society.

David McKinley is the author of the book THE FIRST HUGUENOT SILVERSMITHS OF LONDON
Information about the content of this book and the discounted price applied to members of ASCAS is available in September 2011 Newsletter