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Robert S.
Robert S., Antiques and Collectibles Researcher
Category: Antiques
Satisfied Customers: 4833
Experience:  Expert in decorative arts especially ceramics, silver, paintings, and furniture.
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I have a very unusual silver spoon, which is gilded. It is

Customer Question

I have a very unusual silver spoon, which is gilded. It is very old but so unusual that so far no jeweller or antique expert has been able to identfy what it is or hoe old and how valuabe. Do you know where I can send photos in the hope of identification.
Does the British Museum offer such a service?
Many thanks for you help.
Carla
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Antiques
Expert:  Robert S. replied 1 year ago.

Hi Carla,

My name is ***** ***** I would be happy to look at your silver spoon for you.

Could you very kindly attach the photos you mention, including close-ups of any identifying marks it may have.

Is this a family heirloom, or did you acquire it? Is there a particular story attached to it?

If so, I would love to hear and of course all such details help with provenance and value.

Many thanks,

Robert

PS Here's a really easy way to attach photos.

Just three clicks and a copy and paste and you are done:

Go to http://www.imgur.com/
(no need to 'log in' or 'register' it makes it too complicated)
Click on "Upload Images"
Click on "Browse Your Computer"
Select the pictures you want to send me from the box that pops up.
Hit "open".
Click on "Start Upload" (and wait few seconds pictures to load)
And then copy the link they give you. It will look similar to this http://www.imgur.com/xxxx and it's located right under where it says Image Link
and paste it here where you are typing to me.

(If you have uploaded multiple photos on one Imgur.com link, copy the URL in the browser bar at the top of your screen, otherwise I get just one photo).

Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Hi Robert

Thank you for your response. This spoon has been in a drawer in a bureau for over 50 years. I have no idea how it got there and I can’t ask my husband, who died 2 years ago. The spoon was jet black and a couple of weeks ago I put it into a silver bath and to my utter amazement it came up beautifully golden. It must be silver gilt, because if it was gold it would not have got black in the first place.

I showed it to a friend who is an antiques expert and auctioneer; he said he had never seen anything like it, likewise 2 jewellers. There was a thin red thread attached to it, suggesting that there had been a label at one point, but there is not label now.

The spoon measures 18 cm in length and the deepest part of the bowl measures 2 cm. There is no discernible hallmark.

It may have come from my husband’s father, who lived in Nigeria for many years and also in Australia, but that is just a guess.

I will now try to attach the photos. If I can’t manage to do so successfully, please could you give me a normal e-mail address to send the photos to.

Many thanks for your help. I've copied the URL in the browser bar, I hope that works.

Carla Maddocks

http://imgur.com/aknPC9r,WoQOlC2,pnnvPNT,z8ny3YA,YJ5nilV,xG1DUC5,NY6ru0x,aDCw1KP,puW6RhN,QVQjL2k,9hLUdg7

Expert:  Robert S. replied 1 year ago.

Hi Carla, thanks for the excellent album of photos, those are very helpful indeed.

What an amazing work of art! It looks like a cross between a piece of jewelry and a ceremonial spoon.

It's certainly old, very old. The depiction of the dragon and the other animal and bird are tellingly primitive, that and the lack of hallmarks and a number of other features, make me think this is medieval in date and almost certainly English or European rather than oriental. The Asian version of the dragon is almost never depicted with wings.

It looks like it's solid gold. My advice would be to contact the medieval metalwork curator at the Victoria & Albert museum,

http://www.vam.ac.uk/page/m/metalwork/

Ask if you can send them the photos you sent me and arrange a visit to show them the piece. The only way one can establish anything conclusive about this item is to have it in the hand and looked at properly.

If it turns out to be solid gold, and of the age and origin I think it is, there's no telling what it may be worth but it would be wrong of me to speculate up front as to a figure.

It's definitely worth the effort to find out more about it, you could have quite an important and valuable example of early English gold work.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance with this, I would be glad to.

Best wishes,
Robert

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Hi Robert
Thank you for your exciting reply. I must admit that the sppon looks solid gold on the photos, but my friend the auctioneer said that it was silver gilt. There is small patch on the underside of the handle which looks more like silver than gold, as if the gold had been worn away with usage.
Also, if it was solid gold, could it possibly have gone black?
Also, have you ever seen anything like it before?
Thank you for the link, I will certainly aproach this Department.
Could uou please make a vague educated guess as to what the spoonwould be worth if it was silver gilt, medieval and English?
Looking forward to hearing from you again. Many thanks.
Carla
Expert:  Robert S. replied 1 year ago.

Hi Carla,

It could well be silver gilt or vermeil as the French call it, and that would explain the patch you mentioned. It's always very difficult to tell from photos.

If that is the case, then the gilding is recent, in other words post-1850 when electro-plating became the norm for applying a coat of gold to silver. There is an older process for making vermeil, called fire gilding using a mercury flux, but this, too, would have been a process unknown to a medieval maker. The only gold plating process known in medieval times was "close-plating" and this piece is not close plated. That's one composition you can tell from photos alone, the look is so distinctive.

That also explains why it was black, as the oxidation of silver underneath will cause this, but is usually easy to remove, often with just a wipe of a cloth.

An expert on medieval jewelry would be able to figure out the precise composition. If it is of the period that its design indicates (12th - 14th century) it certainly won't be anything like our modern industrial golds and silvers in terms of composition.

And no, I have never seen one identical to yours, but then that's almost always the case with medieval metalwork. No two pieces are alike but there are decorative motifs that are the same and these common denominators are what the specialists use to attribute age and origin.

As for value, if it were to turn out to be silver gilt, it would likely mean that it was of recent origin (within the last 160 years) in other words, made in Victorian times in a medieval revival style. In which case it would have an auction value in the range of £150 - £250.

But such a piece would have silver hallmarks somewhere and their absence would therefore be puzzling.

There's a slight possibility that it could be medieval in date and gilded in Victorian times or earlier this century. But that's a little unlikely and besides, a silver piece from that long ago would be pitted with oxidation and not nearly as smooth, even under the surface of Victorian gilding.

If it were solid gold, and confirmed to be medieval, it would have a value in the two to three thousand pounds range.

I wish I could be more conclusive than this, but I'm sure you'll get some firm answers from the right specialist at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Hope this helps and thanks for asking me about it, it's a really interesting and beautiful piece.

Best wishes,
Robert

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