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Important Edward IV Spoon, 1462

Availability: Sold

Spoon - Slip-top - London 1462 with whip maker's mark - 16.3cm long; 36g - LY/3428

Important Edward IV Spoon, 1462


This is an extremely important 15th century piece of silver; possibly the earliest date letter on any piece of English silver to exist, probably the earliest recorded example of a maker's mark on a spoon and as far as we can ascertain the earliest English slip top spoon to exist.


This rare medieval spoon has an appropriately shaped fig-shaped bowl for the period, facetted hexagonal stem with a slight swelling to the terminal and cut-off terminal - all typical features of early slip top spoons as described by Commander How in "English & Scottish Silver Spoons" ("How") when he described a slip top marked for 1487: "this highly important spoon is at present the earliest recorded example of an English slip-top: it bears the full London hallmarks for 1487"- Vol I p84/85. Our spoon pre-dates this example by approximately 25 years and we have been unable to trace an earlier English one. The bowl shape of this spoon is represenative of the earliest bowl shape illustrated and described at the top of page 9 of How, volume 1.


The spoon is stamped three times: bowl, lower stem and upper stem. The bowl mark is a very clear example of the so-called African Leopard's head. The individual date letter stamp was first added to English silver in 1478 and this coincided with a change in design to the leopard's head mark. The leopard's head mark used in the previous 16 years is known as the African Leopard and incorporates a letter beneath the mouth. It was Commander How's theory that these letters were in fact an early date letter system introduced after the 1462 charter which granted the London Goldsmith's Company the powers to "search for, inspect, test and regulate the working of gold and silver" which itself created the need to identify who had been responsible for the assay of a particular item of silver (How, vol III p 17-19). Going on the assumption that the 1462 letter would be "a", he was able to tentatively date five spoons incorporating letters for the 1462 to 1476 period. No doubt this early attempt at assay master identification within a single punch was considered laborious and expensive and hence the addition of the individual date letter stamp following an act of 1477.


The letter beneath the leopard's head on this spoon is probably an "a", however it also bears similarities to the Lombardic "C" used in the later date letter cycle for 1480 (Jackson's page 48). If a letter "a" then the likelihood would be for this to be the very first date letter, i.e. 1462 or if a "C" then following the same line of thought, it would date the spoon to 1464. If a letter "a" then it is the earliest date letter to be seen on an extant piece of English silver.


The maker's mark is located to the lower stem and can be clearly seen as a swirl and may possibly be a whip. The use of the maker's mark was first instituted in 1363, but How points out that prior to 1478 the use of this second mark was not enforced and "practically no silver of any sort made prior to 1478 has as yet been found bearing a maker's mark" (Vol. 1 p. 76 foot note). A diamond point spoon of c.1470, sold as lot 323 in Christies dispersal of the Benson Collection in June 2013, was thus catalogued: "the earliest maker's mark yet to be recorded is that stamped on this spoon", (the mark being a wheatsheaf and the African leopard's head part-rubbed making the "date letter" unreadable).  Again the maker's mark on this spoon sheds new light on that statement. To the upper stem is a third mark which is most likely a merchant's mark or stamp of ownership (possibly a livery company or corporation) - further research on this mark could prove fruitful.


Considering its great age, the condition is very good. When purchased the spoon had an all over blackened encrustation caused by excessive tarnishing and probable long term burial. We have successfully chemically treated the spoon to remove this sulphurisation, however the surface has an all over pitted appearance consistent with burial. There is a section along the middle stem where the pitting has been removed due presumably to the attempts of a previous owner to manually remove the black and has thus left it brighter than the rest of the spoon. The bowl has a sharp leading edge and has lost a little of its shape and there are a few sharp bumps to the deep of the bowl. There are no splits, fractures, alterations or repairs. Crucially the hallmarks remain legible and indeed very clear.


This spoon has been spectrographically tested at Goldsmiths Hall. The subsequent report states the silver is of Sterling standard and has "high impurity levels indicative of 16th century silver or before". The bowl and handle have been tested to prove to a 99% certainty that it dates to the 16th century or earlier. A copy of the analysis will be provided to the purchaser.


To put this spoon in to a historical context, it pre-dates the defeat of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and the start of the Tudor period by 21 years. It was made during the turbulent years of the War of the Roses and in 1461 Henry VI of the House of Lancaster was deposed by the Yorkist Edward IV who then became monarch.


This is the type of spoon that one would generally only find in a museum and is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.


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