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Author Topic:   Initial Marks: American Coin - or Are They?
Brent

Posts: 1502
Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 09-17-2000 05:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Scott has graciously photographed for me three spoons with initial marks only. When I started out collecting, I believed each of these to be American. For various reasons, I now have serious doubts. I will post them one at a time, and hopefully we can have a decent discussion of each. For the novice, hopefully this will be a lesson in not jumping to conclusions about marks.

This first spoon is to my mind the easiest to doubt. It is 5 3/8 " long. As you can see, it has a broad oval handle with a downturned end. The bowl is deep and narrow, and features a raised drop on the reverse. It is marked twice with an intaglio EH in rectangle stamp. Although you can not see from the photos, it is engraved .F.B. in pricked script capitals crossways on the front.

This EH stamp bears a decent resemblance to that assigned to Eliakim Hitchcock of New Haven, CT (1726-1788) by Flynt & Fales, Ensko, and others. The spoon does appear to be late 18th - early 19th century, so the dating could match. When you look at the whole package, though, it definitely appears to be of Continental origin.

The evidence:

1.) The shapes of the bowl, handle and drop are unlike any American spoons of the period that I have examined or seen in books.

2.) The metal has a strange color to it. Although soild silver, it is probably of very low grade. It does not resemble any of my authentic American coin spoons.

3.) PRICKED engraving is rare, if not absent , in American coin silver. Pricked intials are very common in Scandinavian silver.

I think this is a Scandinavian spoon, and that we must look to Scandinanvia as a source of initial-marked silver that can be confused with American.

OK, experts, don't sit on your hands! What do you think it is?

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wev
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iconnumber posted 09-19-2000 08:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think your instincts are right and the spoon is Scandinavian, though I would not rule out a Dutch origin either. As you say, Northern European pieces can often pose a real puzzle for novices and experienced collectors alike - Goodness knows they have fooled me more than once. I hesitate to endorse the note on metal colour -- I have several patently American spoons in quite strange shades of silver -- but it is true that some very odd alloys can be found, especially in Denmark where the official standard varied from .750 to .935/1000 silver depending on the scarcity of metal and the assay regulations were never uniformly enforced. As to pricked inscriptions and bowl form (I'm sure there's a PhD thesis on national eating habits as reflected in bowl structure in there somewhere!), I heartily agree -- both should trigger an automatic Continental assumption. Handle forms can be especially deceptive in dating, even after a Continental origin has been decided. Long after they had dropped from fashion in America and England, designs like the pointed oval and Hanover remained popular in Scandinavian countries. The only clue I have found is the exaggeration and elongation of proportions compared to the original models. One point to look for is the overdeveloped tip't back -- in Dutch spoons of the mid 19th century it took on a strong wedge-like shape as opposed to the heart shape found on American spoons and is often exaggerated to the point of discomfort. One other clue worth mentioning is the type form used in the maker's mark. Typefaces (just as silver designs) take on national and regional characteristics. The use of a diagonal or vee shaped crossbar in an "H" is often seen in Germanic and Low Country typefaces of the 17th - 19th centuries. It appears to be the case on your spoon, but it may be the scan. Can't wait to see the other two pieces.

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Brent

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Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 09-21-2000 01:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Mystery #2

This teaspoon (5 3/16") is a bit more problematic. It exhibits nice "wriggle" bright cutting in conjunction with roulette-wheel engraving. It also has a stubby, raised, rounded drop. These features ARE found on period American spoons, although the drop form is unusual. It has no visible monogram. The only mark is the RD in a rectangle. From style, the spoon probably dates from 1770 to 1800, perhaps a bit later.

About the only published American silversmith with a similar mark is Robert Douglas of New London, CT. Douglas died in 1776; if this piece were from Douglas, he must have been working in the very latest style.

Alas, I fear that this spoon is also of Scandinavian origin. My reasons:

1.) The bowl is almost a pure oval, which would have been quite old-fashioned at the time and not in keeping with the bright cutting.

2.) The stem is quite broad in relation to the bowl. Most American spoons seem to have much narrower handles near the bowl.

3.) I once saw a Norwegian spoon with almost identical engraving, as well as the same proportions.

Well, what do you think? I have gone back and forth on this piece in my mind several times. Could it be by Robert Douglas? Or is this another Scandinavian troll, ready to trap the unwary?

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wev
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iconnumber posted 09-21-2000 08:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I must admit not having seen any Scandinavian pieces that match this form. I would have expected a more variant bright-cutting style. The spoon actually strikes me as English -- or to be more exact, Scottish -- in its proportions and design. You might consider Robert Duncan of Glasgow as a maker. Another thought, though a secondary one, is that the spoon is of earlier date, but the bright-cutting was added later to keep to a new fashion. (And thanks for reminding me of Robert Douglas --he fit nicely into the tree!)

I hope that we will hear from some of our other readers on these puzzles.

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Paul Lemieux

Posts: 1768
Registered: Apr 2000

iconnumber posted 09-22-2000 11:58 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul Lemieux     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This eBay auction, 436489806, appears to be a bit like your spoon, with the narrow bowl and it looks like the handle is turned-down too.

Paul.

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Brent

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Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 09-22-2000 09:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The spoon you referenced appears to be an actual American spoon, circa 1770. The style of decoration here is known as "Feather-edge". It came into common usage aroung the time of the Revolution, and seems to have been most popular in the Boston area. I have seen several well-documented Boston spoons with very similar shapes. It may be English, but I would lean towards American. It went way too cheaply, regardless!

Thanks for the contribution. If you see any other similar spoons for sale, let me know!

Brent

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wev
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iconnumber posted 09-22-2000 10:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Contrary to the mention of it being of 'light weight,' the form is more English than American featheredge to me and the mark looks very close to that of Louis Black of London, entered 1761 and noted into the 1790's.

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Brent

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iconnumber posted 09-25-2000 09:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
WEV,

What characteristics would you say separate English from American featheredge? I am curious to know, and always trying to refine my ID skills.

As for mystery #2, the reason I did not think English/Scottish in the first place is the relative flimsiness of this spoon. I think we both agree that English spoons tend to be a bit more substantial than American. Still, I will take a look at Duncan's mark and compare. Thanks for the tip!

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Brent

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Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 09-25-2000 10:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Well, here is the last example. It is again a modest teaspoon, 5 1/16" long. It is a bit more substantial than the first two spoons. It has nice "wriggle" bright cutting with a cartouche at the top. Within the cartouche is engraved H over T * M in block capitals (not visible). The handle is downturned, with a very slight ridge on the back. It has a very unusual drop; raised double arches, stepped such that the inner arch is higher than the outer. I have never seen a similar drop. The mark is a crude T pellet D in oval.

What to make of this? It has some Anglo-American characteristics, such as the good weight and the "triangular" form of the monogram, as well as the block capitals. The mark seems cruder than most English maker's marks, though, and I have been unable to find a comparable English mark in Jackson or Grimwade. On the other hand, there are darn few listed American smiths with TD initials, especially pre-1800. When I look at the drop, though, I must think Continental, as it is unlike any American or English drop I have seen.

This spoon baffles me. What are your thoughts?

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wev
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iconnumber posted 09-29-2000 07:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It baffles me as well. It is a strange combination of hints that seem to contradict each other. I can only offer this as a possible line of inquiry: I have a teaspoon, very different in design ( short oval upturned fiddleback with a pointed oval bowl) and obviously later (French post-1838 guarantee mark for .950 silver) that has the same double drop. Perhaps a Channel Island maker? Calais? Or a French maker lately moved across the channel? Grasping straws perhaps.

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Dale

Posts: 2132
Registered: Nov 2002

iconnumber posted 12-15-2003 12:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On the Skandinavian connection, I have a little information gleaned from collectors I met years ago. When I was doing a circuit of shows in the UpperMidwest in the 80's and early 90's, spoons of this type with the pricked engraving were floating around. They were not common, but were there. At this time I met a number of collectors who told me bits and pieces about these.

The story ran more or less this way. Skandinavians had poured into the UpperMidwest beginning in the 1820's. By the 1840's, thousands were arriving every year. They brought with them many traditional arts and crafts, among which was metal smithing. These smiths produced a great deal of the traditional copper and pewter as well as some silver. Since they tended to come from rural provinces, the work was usually old fashioned. The customers wanted things that reminded them of home.

So for these lonely Swedes, Danes and Norwegians living on the frozen praries there were a number of smiths who produced copper, pewter and silver items. These were memory pieces (in Swedish: minne). When new they were already out of date. They used traditional Skandinavian forms for a nostalgic clientel. The word 'minne' frequently appears on them: the idea was to use the spoon and remember.

This custom seems to have presevered into the late 19th century. In small towns in MN, WI, IA, IL, MI, NE, SD, ND, CO, UT, WA, OR, CA the local jewler who had learned his trade in Skandinavia could produce these spoons when requested. I have seen a spoon made in Utah by an immigrant Swede with the traditional Skandinavian shape, form, engraving and Mormon motifs.

There does not seem to be much information about these. Unfortuneatley, my copy of Arts and Crafts in Early Illinois is in storage now. Beyond that, the museums and cultural centers might have some information. The Norwegians have a major one in Decorah IA. The Swedes are at North Park College in Chicago and in Minneapolis. Also the Lutheran colleges sometimes keep records on the immigrant communities. Augustana in Rock Island IL might be a good place to start.

So, I would say the story on this spoon runs this way. Ole, the generic immigrant, was a younger son of a jeweler. He learned the trade in his father's shop in Öland, like Randahl. Born in 1815, by 1845 he sees no hope of being anything beyond his brother'a assistant. Then he decides to go off to Nord Amerika. He heads for the mild sunny winters of Minnesota. Finds a small town, opens a shop. Every now and then someone asks him to make some silver. They want what they remember from Grandma's house. His skills and designs were old fashioned in the 1830's. Which is what is needed. So he makes these up.

I have seen a number of larger table spoon pieces that feature a creeping in of English words. The first to appear is the replacement of the Skandinavian 'de' after the number with the English 'th'. Instead of '9de Nov' it becomes '9th Dec'.

Hope this helps, Dale

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Dale

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iconnumber posted 12-15-2003 01:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
On the silver color. Tradition is that many of these were made from French trade silver, the kind used to trade with the Native Americans. Try comparing the color of the spoon with known French Canadian and Quebec examples.

The most likely source for information on the silver would be a study of early Midwestern Lutheran liturgical silver. Is there such a thing?

Skandinavia produced a great many silversmiths who migrated to the US. Look at the lists of workmen for Kalo, LeBoldt or any of the upper Midwestern makers and there is a long list of Swedes, Danes and Norwegians. Interestingly, the list for Faberge St Petersburg also shows this.

My guess on your spoon would be this. It is a Skandinavian spoon produced in the Upper Midwest in the 1840's or 1850's. I really don't know if this qualifies as American coin silver or not. There is little consistent research on these workers. What there is, tends to be lumped into community and cultural research, not silver. It would be found Lutheran church by Lutheran church. A reference to so and so who made the communion silver. Lutherans used to put an occupation after each member's name: the word would be 'smed'.

[This message has been edited by Dale (edited 12-15-2003).]

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Dale

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iconnumber posted 12-15-2003 02:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I did a little online searching. The Vesterheim Museum in Decorah IA has some silver, that is either made in Norway or here; they don't seem to know. But they do point to the persistence of forms and shapes among the immigrants. Also found a book on a Swedish silversmith who ended up in LA making silver and saddles for Hollywood. The Vesterheim also teaches crafts, among which are knife making and jewelry making. My guess is that anyone skilled enough to make a brooch can make a spoon.

'The main museum, which unfortunately is an impractical old firetrap, is filled with a rich collection of pioneer relics, some brought from Norway, some made in America. The exhibit is dominated by a large collection of chests and other wooden containers; but tools, textiles, and silver are also well represented, as well as more or less valuable small objects. Most of the collections have been assembled from individual gifts, but large bequests from private collectors, such as the P. Pedersen Collection from Eau Claire, also play a prominent part. If this museum could receive financial support, it would undoubtedly be a natural center for preservation of the material aspect of Norwegian immigrant culture.'

'There is also a Norwegian Lutheran school less known to Norwegians, Clifton Junior College in Texas, where a small immigrant museum has been started, very modest in extent. I did not visit the latter place, but correspondence with the school made it clear that the collection consists of quite ordinary examples within the usual groups: chests, tools, and kitchen utensils of various kinds, besides some smaller silver objects. Nor does it appear that there are any important relics in private hands, even though Clifton itself has great interest as the site of a colony founded by Cleng Peerson, who is buried there.

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Dale

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iconnumber posted 12-15-2003 03:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Another bit of information.

Another immigrant artefact, much easier to identify, is also a silver snuff box, the origin of which we find in Chicago, IL. It is a beautiful item made of coin silver and housed in a handsome velvet lined leather case, made by an early Swedish silversmith in Chicago by the name of L. F. Hussander, born in Levide Parish on the Swedish island of Gotland. He had arrived in America in 1868 and had opened a silversmithy in Chicago in 1870. (Not 3) The snuff box in question was a custom made job to honor the president of the Svea Society of Chicago, J. M. Sch�nbeck, one of the founders of the society in 1857, who on April 25, 1873 celebrated his 57th birthday. The snuff box was suitably engraved for the occasion.

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Brent

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iconnumber posted 12-17-2003 08:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A fascinating amount of information, Dale. I will have to digest it for a while! Thanks!

Brent

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Dale

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iconnumber posted 12-17-2003 10:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the kind comments Brent. I was beginning to wonder if anyone had read my posts. My point would be encapsulated into this: just because something is Scandinavian design made by a Scandinavian silver smith, does not mean it was made in Scandinavia. These silver smiths went all over the world and worked in all sorts of places. The most likely place where it was made was in the upper Midwest, where Scandinavian immigrants concentrated.

What did surprise me was the mention of Hussander in Chicago. He does not appear in any of the books I have handy. Has anyone seen references to him and his work? Here we have someone who had a smithery in a major city, did commissioned work, and the reference comes from a history of the Svea Församling, not a silver scholar.

I would imagine this scenario holds for just about any immigrant group. It can be both humbling and illuminating to suddenly discover the 1850's Bohemian fork was made in Berwyn IL in 1910.

Anyway, it is my understanding that there has been very little research into the immigrant silver smiths of the Midwest.

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Brent

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iconnumber posted 12-18-2003 10:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree, the upper Midwest is ripe for some serious silver scholarship. Illinois (outside of Chicago), Wisconsin, and Minnesota are largely uninvestigated, and the only good Michigan source is an unpublished master's thesis. Your references are the first I had heard about immigrant Scandianavian craftsmen in the area. I first began collecting silver while living in Wisconsin, and the first two spoons in this thread were obtained there. It is tantalizing to think that they may actually be American, despite their Scandinavian appearance. I do have a piece of handwrought pewter, signed and dated 1936, that probably fits into this tradition, despite the late date. I will try to post some pictures after the holidays.

Thanks again for opening the door!

Brent

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nihontochicken

Posts: 289
Registered: May 2003

iconnumber posted 03-29-2004 11:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nihontochicken     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hi! Been away for some time, just getting caught up. Re the third spoon with the strange double drop, I have a piece with a similar drop myself. It is a soup ladle in a long, graceful OEP, well marked for Edinburgh, 1802-3, maker "RG" or "KG" (not identified). The drop is similar wide circles, but in my piece three instead of two. But it is nonetheless quite similar. Perhaps a local provincial affectation? Anyway, might give you somewhere to look. Good luck!

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adelapt

Posts: 418
Registered: May 2003

iconnumber posted 03-30-2004 03:26 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for adelapt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Interesting, erudite, and wide-ranging. The replies to this subject, like those to Nihontochicken's "Hilaritas" spoon on the general forum, are wonderful stuff. Thanks very much to Scott and June for a fascinating site, and to the contributors for generously sharing.

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vathek

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Registered: Jun 99

iconnumber posted 03-31-2004 02:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for vathek     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Although not quite aligned with this discussion, I believe some items identified as Chinese export silver were possibly made in this country by immigrant Chinese. Have no proof as of yet but think that many pieces marked Sterling may have been made here, even if they have Chinese chop marks.

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swarter
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iconnumber posted 03-31-2004 07:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Not quite what Vathek had in mind, but here is a spoon, much lighter than any usual Chinese export spoon (which typically imitates the more substantial English ones), and very much American in feel and appearance. It has an elaborate dragon engraved on the handle, and a mark which I assume is an oriental character (or an imitation thereof?). The mark as shown is as held with the bowl pointed downwards (I have no idea which end is supposed to be up). Perhaps it was made in (or made for sale in) San Francisco, or some other area with a large Chinese population (it was found here in California)?

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