Collect to Invest: Silver spoons regain their sparkle

Christie's expectation of pounds 100,000-pounds 150,000 for a famous set of 12 silver 17th century apostle spoons next month is a reminder that prices for collectable wrought silver - and apostle spoons in particular - are showing a sharp rise. Although the silver market remained stable during the recession, it has been dull for a decade.

Dating from the 15th century, apostle spoons, with cast and chased terminals representing saints, have risen in value at auction by some 50 per cent in the past couple of years. You can still buy 17th century apostles with unascribed maker's marks for under pounds 500 - if you are lucky - but those whose makers are known have been selling for three and four times estimate.

For example, at Sotheby's last July, an English provincial silver-gilt apostle spoon with an unascribed mark of about 1655 sold for a modest pounds 368, towards the low end of its pounds 350-pounds 450 estimate. But in the same sale, a St Bartholomew spoon of 1636 with the mark of Robert Tyte of Salisbury made pounds 1,955, four times the pounds 400-pounds 600 estimate.

The reason why an unascribed spoon of 1550, estimated pounds 600-pounds 800, fetched a whopping pounds 2,185, was probably because the buyer had had more time to discover a name for the unascribed WC and star mark than the auctioneers.

For a variety of reasons, well-heeled new buyers are entering the apostle spoon market. They are middle aged and retired lawyers, bankers and accountants - not only British but Americans and Australians - with time to read the growing number of textbooks that have made spoon-buying less of a lottery.

A Henry VIII St Matthias spoon, estimated pounds 5,000-pounds 8,000 at David Lay's auction house in Penzance three years ago, would have fetched nowhere near the pounds 18,700 that was paid for it if Timothy Kent, a retired barrister and leading spoon expert, had not identified and published its fringed S mark as belonging to William Simpson, apprenticed to the London maker Robert Preston in 1499.

Simpson was one of the finest and most prolific makers of the first half of the 16th century. Kent's book on the spoon makers of the West Country - where many apostle spoons come from - has had a steadily growing impact on the market since its publication in 1992.

Although prices for apostle spoons will probably continue to rise for a year or two, it is safest to consider this as a seller's market. The high prices are not being paid by speculators hoping for a quick profit, or by interior designers (seven-inch spoons can hardly be said to liven up a room) but by discerning collectors who want that spoon even if they have to pay through the nose.

If they pause to think of investment, they might consider, wisely, returning their rarest purchases to auction in 10 years' time. By then, today's new collectors will have had their fill of run-of-the-mill pieces and will be competing even more fiercely for top-of-the-market gems.

Such maturation of the market is already evident. A 1490 spoon depicting St James the Greater, from the earliest recorded set of hallmarked apostle spoons, fetched pounds 22,000 at Phillips in October 1990 and pounds 32,200 at Christie's in July 1993 - a gain of pounds 10,200 in less than three years. If you really want to invest, you must dig deep to buy the very best.

The rarities being cashed in at Sotheby's on 5 March are the 12 apostle spoons of the Swaythling Collection, reputedly presented by Charles II to Martha Clayton, wife of Sir Robert Clayton, Lord Mayor of London. Six date from 1524 and six from 1553. Complete 16th century sets are exceptionally rare. The Swaythling group is probably the finest of only two such sets still in private hands.

There are reasons other than improved documentation to feel confidence in apostle spoons. They are cheaper, and available in larger, more collectable numbers, than any other 16th or early 17th century objects. And they have lasting charm as cherished possessions from the days when cutlery was scarce (ordinary people carried their own spoons) and when families knew the saints' names and prayed together before meals. They were sometimes given as christening presents.

The current surge is, in part, a response to the all-clear following the flooding of the spoon market in the early Eighties by the forger Martin Russell. Almost all of his expert work has now been eradicated.

While fear of spoon forgeries lasted, other silver collectables such as tea caddies, wine labels and Vesta boxes increased steadily in price. Fine examples of each sell for around pounds 2,000. An eagle's wing tea caddy of 1830 that would have been worth pounds 1,200-pounds 1,500 two years ago sold for pounds 3,800 at Phillips in January.

By comparison, apostle spoons are two or three centuries older, at least as fascinating, and, until recently, less expensive. Their current rise in value can be interpreted as the filling of the price vacuum artificially created by the forgeries. So drawers of escalating price graphs should not be over-optimistic.

As for the current heavy speculation in bullion silver by the "Sage of Omaha", Warren Buffett - bullion prices have little or no effect on wrought silver prices. Even at pounds 4 an ounce, silver content is only a tiny proportion of total value. But it's comforting for collectors to know that someone is taking an interest.

Besides bidding at auction, consider visiting the country's leading spoon dealers, JH Bourdon-Smith, where the author of the standard guides on spoons, Mr Kent, can be consulted. The firm makes a point of selling nothing that it would not buy back. There is also a silver spoon collectors' club.

The next auction at Phillips, who are good on spoons, is 15 April, 12 noon.

Two standard guides by Tim Kent, available from JH Bourdon-Smith, 24 Mason's Yard, Duke Street, London SW1Y 6BU: "London Silver Spoon Makers, 1500-1697" (published by the Silver Society) 1981, pounds 8 + p&p pounds 1 inland, pounds 2 abroad. "West Country Silver Spoons and Their Makers", 1550-1750 (published by Bourdon-Smith), 1992, pounds 35 + p&p pounds 3 inland, pounds 7 abroad.

An annual subscription for the Spoon Collectors Club costs pounds 29.50 and includes its bi-monthly journal `The Finial'. Contact Terry and Mary Haines, Glenleigh Park, Sticker, St Austell, Cornwall PL26 7JD (01726 65269).

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: The SThree group is a world le...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultants

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £Competitive: SThree: SThree Group and have be...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?