ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
Members' Window # 92
by Joanne and Emmett Eldred
(click on photos to enlarge image)


The following is the fifth 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.


Condition is a very important factor for us. For example the hallmarks should be clearly defined, leaving no doubt as to what they are, and as we have already mentioned, the condition of the engraving should be 7 or better. However it is important to remember that teapots and stands were meant to be used and therefore should show some signs of age. Minor scratches and slight dings are likely to be expected and attest to the set's every day use. Typically major damage to the teapot can take several forms, which include major dents or scratches to the body and/or spout. While unattractive this type of damage does not directly alter a piece’s authenticity. Often a professional can correct this type of damage, especially if does not involve a crease or significantly intrudes into the engraving.

Unfortunately some individuals had a problem with their silver having someone else’s initials, monogram, or family crest/coat-of-arms. Therefore they often had someone remove them. In some cases this can significantly thin or weaken the silver at that point, which is something that is virtually impossible to fix. This is one alteration that significantly dampens our desire to purchase a piece. As mentioned above we feel the addition of an initial, monogram, or especially a crest and/or coat-of-arms helps complete the overall statement of the piece. In many cases the cartouches have always been vacant, and so be it. However we feel removing of these personalizing engravings alters the piece’s overall statement. Therefore, for us any piece with engraving removals has to have some unique merit to warrant consideration (many collectors do not feel as strongly as we do, but we felt it important to note our particular bias).

Actual repairs can be more troubling. One of the more common repairs involves teapot bottoms and is indicated by the presence of noticeable solder. This was likely done to repair a slight leak and usually the excess solder can be observed on either the inside or outside of the bottom. Silversmiths of this period were highly skilled and solder joins were very neat and hardly noticeable (as a side note this was not always the case, for example Hester Bateman pieces tend to be a little “sloppy” in this regard). However, most repairer’s seem to ascribe to the philosophy “if it’s not seen, it needn’t be cleaned”. Therefore, observing globs of silver solder either along the inside and/or outside bottom edges is a fairly sure indicator of a later repair. While this distracts somewhat from a piece’s value it does not significantly impact its originality (unless the repair is extensive or very poorly executed).
Minor repair to a teapot bottom Major repair to a teapot bottom Original solder 'beads'; H Bateman teapot
Minor repair to a teapot
Major repair to a teapot
Original solder "beads";
Hester Bateman teapot
Other fairly common repairs involved strengthening teapot spouts and handle brackets, or reinforcing or reattaching feet on teapot stands. Again, these repairs can usually be detected by the presence of noticeable solder. When these components were originally attached, the silversmith heated the silver hot enough for the solder to evenly flow between the two pieces of silver being joined. Therefore there was little build up of solder around the joint seam. When a repairer added new solder to strengthen a joint the solder typically did not flow under the two pieces of silver as was the case originally. Rather the solder layered on top of the seam. A skilled repairer would then have to spend a fair amount of time detailing the repair by filing off the excess solder. Most repairers spent relatively little time "fine-tuning" their repairs, so reinforced or repaired joints usually appear somewhat crude when compared to other original joints on a piece. Another clear indication of a later repair is the presence of small voids or depressions along the seam. These were formed when escaping gas formed small bubbles as the solder cooled.
Possible strengthening of foot Reattachment or repair of spout (small voids) Solder reinforcement of bracket
Possible strengthening of foot
Reattachment or repair of spout (small voids)
Solder reinforcement of bracket
On the hand, significant repairs or enhancements like replacement of handle supports, silver reinforcement patches to the lid or spout, or added chasing or out of period engraving significantly distract from a piece's originality and hence its value.

The originality of the handle and finial can be viewed as either less or equally important. It seems to depend on whether a collector is concerned more about the actual crafting of the piece by the silversmith or the overall statement of the final product. In the former case, the handle and final are viewed more as necessary additions, which might well have needed replacement over time (actually the silver pins holding the handle in place were usually designed for its removal, as was the threaded post and wing-nut attachment of the finial.) To support this view, it appears that a number of handles and finials were replaced (actually one of the reported "authorized" tasks of early American silversmiths was repairing handles on imported silver coffeepots and teapots.) However as we describe in more detail in another post, we tend to ascribe to the later view, in that we believe the handle and finial are an integral part of the overall design. Therefore the originality of the handle and finial is a significant evaluation consideration for us.
Joanne and Emmett Eldred
- 2012 -