ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
Members' Window # 93
by Joanne and Emmett Eldred
(click on photos to enlarge image)


The following is the sixth 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.


As mentioned earlier we tend to purchase sets with a family crest and/or coat-of-arms. We have found that researching an engraving on a piece to try and determine its possible family connection adds considerably to our collecting enjoyment.

The process of researching a crest or coat-of-arms involves number of interesting activities and one quickly fashions himself as a detective trying to solve a mystery. The first step is sorting through the various heraldic terms and meanings. This is not an easy task when one considers that individuals in the 19th century spent their entire careers focused on the subject and a few were even knighted for their heraldic proficiency and contributions (e.g., Bernard Burke in 1855). However understanding heraldic terminology is necessary to translate the pictorial version of a family’s crest or coat-of-arms (emblazon) into words, or heraldic blazon.

Armed with a description in heraldic blazon, one begins wading through numerous reference books to try to match the blazon to a family. In the case of a crest this can be very difficult since several families often used the same crest; however a coat-of-arms, in most cases, was unique for a given family or branch. Unfortunately, this process is not as straightforward as one might imagine. Over time, many heraldic records have been “lost” (probably residing somewhere but not cataloged and/or accessible) or were not picked up by the people creating the majority of the reference books (typically these books were written during the later part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries).

However, sometimes one gets lucky. For example we purchased two pieces with crests, one of the Mynors-Baskerville family (wolf holding a broken spear in its mouth with drops of blood falling from the spear tip) and the other of the Calley family (lion’s upper body holding a battle axe in its right paw with a banner draped across its chest with three stars.) In both instances the crests were pretty much unique to the individual families and therefore identification was fairly straightforward.
Mynors-Baskerville family crest Calley family crest
Mynors-Baskerville family crest
Calley family crest
On the other hand, we own several other examples where the research is still ongoing. For instance the following crest of a falcon or hawk can be associated with more than eighty-six families.
Falcon or hawk with VIRTUS INEXPUGNABILIS motto
Falcon or hawk with VIRTUS INEXPUGNABILIS motto
By itself, it would be almost impossible to link the crest to a specific family. However in this instance there is also a family motto, VIRTUS INEXPUGNABILLIS ("unconquerable virtue"), which should make the task much easier.
Unfortunately we have not been able to find any examples of VIRTUS INEXPUGNABILIS being used as a family motto, much less used in conjunction with a falcon or hawk crest.
As a side note: looking carefully at the picture -- the engraver misspelled INEXPUGNABILIS on both the teapot and stand. In each case he spelled it "INEXPUGNAEILIS".
Likely he was given handwritten instructions or a poorly printed reference document and mistook the "B" for an "E".
Fortunately for the engraver, the lettering is small enough that we seriously doubt the purchaser ever noticed it.

For those cases where a definitive family has been identified, it is then fun to see if it is possible to identify who might have purchased or owned the set by checking town records for marriages or inheritances that might have occurred around the time of the piece's manufacture. However, many documented historical accounts indicate that silver was often purchased years after a marriage or inheritance. Therefore, this research usually results in conjecture (or wishful thinking) at best -- but it does add an element of ongoing adventure to the pieces.
For example, in the case of our first purchase the armorial engraving likely depicts the Ainsworth family impaling another family (possibly the Nowell or Pulverston family).
The coat-of-arms of the male is depicted on the "dexter", or right side (looking out from behind the shield), while the female's coat-of-arms is on the "sinister", or left side.
The charge of the impaling family is depicted above the shield, and in this case, it is the Ainsworth family.
This impaling most likely represented a wedding, but in our research of town records from 1780 through 1800 we have not been able to find any marriages (or other associations) between an Ainsworth and either of two families noted earlier.

Likely the Ainsworths impaling another, as yet unidentified, family
Likely the Ainsworths impaling another, as yet unidentified, family
We will continue investigating other possible family combinations but there is a distinct possibility we will never arrive at an acceptable theory. However as they say, “chase is half the fun”, and for us the exploration with the hope of a discovery is an important part of our overall collecting experience.
Joanne and Emmett Eldred
- 2012 -