Collect to Invest: Silver spoons regain their sparkle
Saturday 21 February 1998
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; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk
Bargain Hunter: Exclusive discount on a SmartGlider - a self-balancing electric scooter
My Tinder date asked for a refund when I declined a second meet up
10 tips for taking out a personal loan
Number of parents moving to their desired school catchment area is increasing, according to Santander research
Bank-beating exchange rates on your international payments
- 1 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 4 Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
- 5 Refugee crisis: Aylan's life was full of fear - in death, he is part of 'humanity washed ashore'
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
iJobs Money & Business
£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...
£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...
Day In a Page
With four bedrooms, this spacious maisonette in a mid-terrace period-style house in Holland Road is well-maintained and offers high ceilings and period features.
The terraces of this two-bedroom penthouse apartment offer panoramic views that stretch over fifty miles from the cliffs of Beachy Head.
In the heart of the coastal village of Mumbles and moments from the pier, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is set over three floors and retains many original features.
In a sandbanks location, moments from the beach, this three-bedroom apartment has a large open-plan living area and a south-west facing balcony.
This four-bedroom home has an annexe accessed from the side of the house, with potential for improvement and conversion subject to the necessary permissions.
In the heart of the hamlet of Wardley, this five-bedroom period home offers countryside views and a stylish interior, with original features and open fireplaces.
Offering countryside views and landscaped gardens, this three-bedroom Grade II-listed lodge has a spacious conservatory and a large cellar that could serve as a workshop.
Set in approximately 1.5 acres, this four-bedroom home comes with a second, detached property that's currently used as an annexe.
In the hamlet of Newchurch, this former parish church is now a four-bedroom home complete with clock tower and eyrie.
Offering scenic views from a large balcony and sun terrace, this four-bedroom home has a wraparound garden and a heated swimming pool.
Offering views across the Humber and East Yorkshire Wolds from a glass panelled balcony, this four-bedroom barn-style home befits a life of leisure.
This four-bedroom home offers versatile accommodation with annexe potential; features include a hot tub, sauna and Norwegian BBQ hut.
Well-located for schools, colleges and the town centre, this contemporary thatched cottage offers flexible living space with six bedrooms.
Built in 1907, this four-bedroom Edwardian period home has been refurbished by the current owners, retaining many original period features.
Surrounded by landscaped gardens, this five-bedroom home offers living space across three floors.
This lovely country home in Burnham Market is currently run as a popular holiday cottage, with five en suite bedrooms and colourful gardens.
This three-bedroom 17th-century former village bakery is just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
Set on a landscaped plot, this light and airy four-bedroom home comes with a log burner in the lounge, a fitted kitchen and an open-plan ground-floor layout.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Built on a former chapel site, this impressive four-bedroom home boasts balconies, stunning views and contemporary modern living.
This three-bedroom house is situated in a quiet mews and set over three floors. Features include glazed staircases and high ceilings.
A period townhouse set over four floors, this five-bedroom home was built in the 18th Century and retains many original features.
With five bedrooms, this spacious home offers beautiful gardens and modern interiors - set within the popular market town of Bingley.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This first-floor flat comes with two bedrooms, an impressive open-plan reception room and two lovely roof terraces.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Moored at Taggs Island and reached via a pretty garden, this two-bedroom houseboat has a vaulted reception room and skylit garden studio - currently a beauty salon.
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
A contemporary house spread over three storeys, this three-bedroom detached home has large sliding doors that open out to the River Quaggy.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
This former village bakery, dating back to the 17th century, is now a three-bedroom detached home just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
On the picturesque Isle of Man, this four-bedroom character home has a ground-floor shop that's currently run as a newsagents and a flat that would make an ideal holiday let.
In a new collection of flats, this first-floor two-bedroom apartment offers ample entertaining space and a prime view of Furze Green from a private balcony.
This three-bedroom stone-built cottage currently trades as the village store with a restaurant in the annexe and family accommodation on the upper floors.
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.