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Author Topic:   French Marks?
heatherjanemcc

Posts: 16
Registered: Oct 2004

iconnumber posted 12-10-2005 06:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for heatherjanemcc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I recently bought four silver tablespoons to give as a wedding gift, and I'd love to be able to tell the new couple a little about them.

Each bears three marks. On three spoons, they are identical, but the fourth spoon has one mark (the maker's mark?) that differs from the others, although the spoons look virtually identical and all bear the same monograms in the same style. All have the Minerva head facing right as you see in the picture here, although she looks a little different in the "odd" spoon. All also have the mark of the two-faced Janus illustrated here, although under magnification you can see there is a number "2" just above the two heads which isn't visible in this picture. Three of the spoons have the "W" mark with what looks to be the all-seeing eye in a triangle above it. The fourth spoon had this mark (sorry for the poor detail shot) of the elided "V" and "H" with a dot above and below it.

Any suggestions as to what these are--are they even French?

I have only Wyler's book to refer to and he shows a right-facing Minerva head in a circle as illustrated here, saying it is a French mark but giving no further detail. I am mystified by many Continental marking systems, but I know many of you are not!

Thanks for your time!


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FWG

Posts: 845
Registered: Aug 2005

iconnumber posted 12-10-2005 06:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FWG     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think the Janus-head mark is the key here: It's the fineness mark for .800 silver (2nd standard) in Belgium, 1831-1868. The Belgian hallmark for large items (which in my experience seems to mean most things other than jewelry) is a Minerva head similar to the French one of the early 19th century, but distinctive in several points (e.g., the plume at the back of the helmet and the shape of the bottom of the neck) which match your example. These two marks, along with the maker's mark, are the complete set.

Unfortunately I have no references for Belgian makers' marks, but perhaps someone else will have.

In my experience it is not that unusual to have sets of flatware made up at different times and by different makers, especially in continental silver. As a family grew (or its wealth did) pieces could be added, and if the styles had changed slightly the new maker would match the old as best they could. For example, I once had a set of Dutch forks that had one from the 1780s, two from the 1810s or so, and three from the mid-19th century. Each sub-set was slightly different; interestingly, the engravers had done a better job of closely matching the original monogram than the makers had of matching the overall pattern.

[This message has been edited by FWG (edited 12-10-2005).]

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heatherjanemcc

Posts: 16
Registered: Oct 2004

iconnumber posted 12-10-2005 07:19 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for heatherjanemcc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's great information, FWG. I will do some looking into Belgian silver to see if I can come up with some information on the makers. It's so great to have someone to point you in the right direction! Thanks for your help.

What you say about sets of flatware being added to over time is interesting, especially with regard to these spoons. Although they are very nineteenth-century looking in form and style, I was a little puzzled since they bear an archaizing monogram, in the scratchy, block letter style more typical of early eighteenth- or late seventeenth-century spoons. I bet they were made to go with a set of much earlier spoons. And as you point out, the monogram is pretty convincing looking!

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Kimo

Posts: 1597
Registered: Mar 2003

iconnumber posted 12-12-2005 01:15 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kimo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Monogram/engraving styles have to be one of the least reliable indicators of age, especially when you have marks and the style of the flatware to tell you what you have.

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Raf Steel

Posts: 94
Registered: Jul 2005

iconnumber posted 12-14-2005 07:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Raf Steel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Belgian silver indeed, made between 1831 and 1868 (snd. alloy, 800/1000) as said by FWG. You will not find the minerva head on coffeespoons (and other small items) because of lack of space. It is then replaced by a sword.
the key to identifying the marks: the minerva head carries in the helmet a town letter (A for Brussels; B for Antwerp; C for Gent; etc.). Unfortunatly, due to cleaning and using, it is usally worn and illegable. I will see if I can find the makers, but don't make any bets on it. If the letter is still visible, please let me know!

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heatherjanemcc

Posts: 16
Registered: Oct 2004

iconnumber posted 12-20-2005 09:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for heatherjanemcc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the information, Raf. I've been out of town for a few days, but I will look closely at the Minervas when I get home to see if I can identify the letter. In the meantime, I've learned of a book on Belgian silver makers, but haven't found a library that has it yet. Thank you very much for your time and help!

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heatherjanemcc

Posts: 16
Registered: Oct 2004

iconnumber posted 12-20-2005 02:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for heatherjanemcc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Try as I might, I could find no trace of the city letter on any of the Minerva head marks! I have a pretty good lighted magnifying glass, and I looked on all four spoons from several angles, but I just couldn't see anything that looks like it might have been a letter. Presumably, as you say, they have worn away or maybe they didn't strike well (for instance the "2" on the Janus head is really visible only on one spoon and partially on another).

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Raf Steel

Posts: 94
Registered: Jul 2005

iconnumber posted 12-22-2005 06:55 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Raf Steel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I had a very busy week, sorry I couldn't reply sooner. The book you might have heard of is R. Stuyck "Belgian silvermarks". It is a book that dates from 1984 and it is very diffcult to find. Although generally good, it is incomplete, certainly with regards to the 19th and 20th centuries. It is difficult to find the marks when you don't have the city (small country but a lot of silversmiths), however I had a stroke of luck. the W with the eye is a maker of the city of Mechelen (Malines in French), by the name of M. Wolf. the VH mark is by the maker P.J. Van Ham also of Mechelen. Both of them are listed in Stuyck. Hope this helps.

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heatherjanemcc

Posts: 16
Registered: Oct 2004

iconnumber posted 01-07-2006 06:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for heatherjanemcc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Raf, how marvelous! Thanks you so very much for the information. I am sorry it has taken me so long to reply, but I got busy over the holidays and stayed away from the forum for a little bit. What a wonderful surprise to find your answer here today.

As a postscript, my friends loved the spoons (monograms and all), even though I dared to buy outside their registry. I think antique silver makes an absolutely wonderful wedding gift and love to give it when I find the right pieces. I will be sure to pass along the extra information. Many thanks again!

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Kimo

Posts: 1597
Registered: Mar 2003

iconnumber posted 01-09-2006 01:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kimo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Never fear to buy outside a couple's registry! I am a great believer in doing so at every opportunity since I dislike greatly the underlying assumption that I have no ability or taste in coming up with an appropriate gift. Whether I give or receive a gift, the most meaningful and valued part of it is that it reflects the giver's heart and thoughtfulness for the occassion. I may be old school, but in my mind "registries" where your guests are ordered to give so many dishes or glasses or pieces of flatware are cold and mercenary.

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