ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
Members' Window # 87  
by Joanne and Emmett Eldred
(click on photos to enlarge image)


The following is the third in a series of papers, which discuss several of the criteria we use in evaluating pieces we collect. These discussions will highlight our approach when considering form, originality of teapot and stand combinations, engraving, hallmarks, condition, and crests & coats-of-arms. In most cases we have used pictures from our modest but growing collection to illustrate what is being described.

As is the case with collecting almost anything, the initial learning curve can be quite steep. Being fairly new to the subject it certainly applied to us. Our initial screen involved only two basic areas; form and hallmarks. Our assessment of form was subjective and based solely on our personal tastes at the time. Of course having seen only a few examples we did not have a broad reference base and therefore were unaware of the variety of designs produced during the later part of the 18th century. Our second screen was centered on hallmarks. As noted earlier, one advantage in collecting English silver is its hallmarking system. Fortunately we were able to locate several excellent Websites for researching hallmarks, especially maker's marks. Looking back on things we were very lucky with the majority of our early purchases. We could have made some costly mistakes because we did not realize that several other key factors, such as crispness of the engraving, absence of repairs, surface patina, presence of an identifiable coat-of-arms or crest, etc., significantly contributed to the desirability and therefore the value of a set.

Over time we became more knowledgeable and ultimately developed a pretty rigorous set of criteria for evaluating pieces we were interested in purchasing. Our approach currently involves a number of assessments (form, originality, engraving, hallmarks, condition, crest), which we will describe over a series of articles.


Since we prefer pieces with armorial arms or crests, many of the pieces we are considering have engraving.

The condition of the engraving is very important since it is key component of the overall design statement. In evaluating condition, we use a scale of 1-10, with 1 meaning the engraving is barely discernable and 10 indicating it is almost perfect. We would not typically purchase something with a rating of less than 7. That means that all components of the engraving are clearly visible and the only wear is where the engraving runs over edges (and is prone to wear from polishing) or comes in contact with another surface during normal usage. It also means that any fine background lines are still present but maybe slightly worn in spots (they tended to be cut very shallow).

The following are some examples to illustrate the point (obviously it is better to actually handle the pieces, but hopefully the pictures convey the general condition of the engravings.)
Wear to tray from contact with the teapot (grade 7)
Wear to tray from contact with the teapot
(grade 7)
Very crisp with slight wear on ridges (grade 8-9)
Very crisp with slight wear on ridges
(grade 8-9)
Very crisp with almost no wear (grade 9)
Very crisp with almost no wear (grade 9)
Very crisp with virtually no wear (grade 9-10)
  Very crisp with virtually no wear (grade 9-10)
It is important to remember that most of the silver was polished frequently over its lifetime. This was especially true if its owner’s household had staff. Wear to the engravings from polishing came from two sources. First was the abrasive nature of the polishes they used, which varied considerably in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These abrasive polishes removed layers of silver more or less uniformly across the surfaces being polished. Of course engravings held tarnish and thus were areas of more concentrated polishing. The other was the frequent removal of tarnish. Since tarnish is the chemical combination of silver and sulfur (sulfur in household air coming from combustion and/or emanating from things such as wool rugs, rubber, etc.), its removal also removes small amounts of silver. Over time, this can result in a rounding over of the edges of the bright-cut engraving, which also leads to a loss of crispness. Likely, the examples that have the best preserved engravings were those that were either wiped frequently before tarnish could form or those that were severely tarnished due to infrequent polishing (once a tarnish film covers the piece it acts as a sort of barrier against additional tarnishing).

It is also important to determine if the engravings on the teapot and stand match and ideally whether they are contemporary to the teapot and stand. This again becomes fairly subjective. Typically we research the overall background engraving against other examples of a silversmith's work. This is straightforward for pieces crafted by Henry Chawner, the Hennells, or the Batemans since they were fairly prolific and we have a large number of reference photographs for each of these makers. It is obviously more difficult for other less well known makers since examples of their work are harder to find. After considerable study of pieces made by Chawner, Hennell, and Bateman, it became apparent that individual makers seemed to prefer certain engraving designs. For example, the engravings on Hester Bateman pieces routinely have floral patterns while those of Chawner and Hennell are more varied. It is likely that each silversmith had drawings or actual examples of different engraving patterns in their workshops. This would have aided customers and/or the silversmith in their selection of a design, especially if the engraving was to be contracted outside the shop (likely the case for many of the smaller shops since it is doubtful that most silversmiths did their own engraving and they probably did not have engravers resident in their shop.)

It is possible that the teapots and stands were sometimes engraved by different individuals, especially if they were made at different times. However, engravers of the period seemed to be routinely competent so it is pretty hard to discern differences based on technique. Also, an engraver might have unintentionally altered a pattern slightly between a teapot and stand. This could be easily understood, especially if he was working from a drawing or memory rather that actually having the companion piece in front of him for reference. In general, what we try to look for is significant differences in the design or quality of the engravings between the teapot and stand.

We find it harder to tell if a crest or coat-of-arms was engraved at the same time as the overall background engraving. It seems that the convention during the period was to add the crest or coat-of-arms to only to the stand and the right-facing side of the teapot (spout facing to the right). This is logical since one of the major reason for adding initials, monograms, or crests/arms was for identification (e.g., if the pieces were stolen.) On the other hand, it might just have been for economic reasons. Why spend extra to have both sides engraved since only one side was typically visible when it was displayed, or if someone were right handed, the crest would face out when the teapot was being held? However, there were likely numerous exceptions.

It is well documented that displaying family crests was very popular throughout most of the 19th century and there were a large number of very proficient engravers working throughout this period. We have a simple drum shaped Henry Chawner set with almost no engraving except for relatively elaborate cartouches on both the teapot and stand. There is little doubt the cartouches are contemporary with the pieces (we have several references of an identical cartouche being used on several other Chawner pieces at around the same time – possibly done by the same engraver.) There is a family crest inside the cartouches on both sides of the teapot as well as on the stand. The crests appear to be contemporary with the cartouches, however it is our suspicion they were probably added a decade or so later when the family coat-of-arms was passed to a cousin because of a lack of a male heir.

However there are instances where it is almost certain that a crest was engraved at the same time as the overall background engraving. For example, we have a 1791 Henry Chawner teapot and stand with a Calley family crest in the cartouches on the stand and on the right-facing side of the teapot. Interestingly it has a smaller exact duplicate crest integrated into the double-dot border design of the lid. There are obvious variations in the spacing of the dots leading up to the bottom "wreath" of the crest, which indicates the crest was probably engraved first and the border added afterwards.
Henry Chalmer teapot and stand 1791 (left) and Calley family crest on teapot and stand (right)
Small Calley family crest integrated with the double-dot pattern surrounding the lid
Another Hester Bateman piece has an open cartouche on the right side, which never had a crest but a full Halliwell family coat-of-arms with crest on the opposite side. The piece might have been planned this way since usually matching cartouches are present on both sides, but since there is nothing engraved in the cartouche, it is likely the crest was added a bit later.
Joanne and Emmett Eldred
- 2011 -