ONLY a handful of pieces of Irish secular silver are known to survive from before the Restoration – among them an austere Commonwealth period porringer shown by dealers How of Edinburgh at The Antique Dealers’ Fair & Exhibition at London’s Grosvenor House hotel in 1967.
Dubbed ‘the IS porringer’ on account of its (possibly modified) engraved initials, it was pictured in an advert in Connoisseur magazine in September 1967 together with the note: “One earlier piece of Irish secular plate at present recorded.”
Scholarship has moved on, but only a tiny selection of pre-1660 domestic wares is published in Tony Sweeney’s catalogue raisonné of Irish Stuart Silver as recently as 1995.
They include the table salt made in Dublin c.1640 by the English migrant goldsmith George Gallant (the piece to which How referred), a flagon at Trinity College Dublin, a wine cup of 1638 and half-a-dozen spoons.
The whereabouts of the IS porringer was unknown for almost 50 years until earlier this year, when Essex auction house Sworders (22% buyer’s premium) was invited to appraise items of silver from the family of Colonel SL Bibby CBE.
Little is known about Bibby, but his collection did provide seven pieces to the exhibition Seven Centuries of English Domestic Silver held at the Royal Ontario Museum in 1958.
Bibby’s granddaughter has fond memories of family meals in a dining room sparkling with Stuart and Georgian table silver before a theft when much of the collection was sadly stolen.
The porringer, weighing a heavy 9oz, was among eight lots that remained with the family to be sold in Stansted Mountfitchet on November 30.
Although its significance had been lost across the previous halfcentury, with the help of the National Museum of Ireland, Goldsmiths’ Hall in London and Irish silver academic Dr Thomas Sinsteden, Sworders’ silver specialist Anita Anderson could piece together its collecting history.
In particular, blow-up photographs allowed the largely obscured marks to be read as the harp of Dublin and the date letter ‘B’ for 1659.
There has been very little to compare it with in the market.
Perhaps the best imperfect comparison is the William III twohandled cup marked for Thomas Bolton (Dublin 1694) and engraved with the shield of Evelyn impaling another which was sold for £23,400 by Bonhams Knightsbridge in February 2009.
Accordingly, despite its somewhat tired condition, the Sworders porringer attracted considerable interest at its estimate of £4000- 6000 before selling at £25,000 to Ian Whyte of auctioneers Whyte’s of Dublin.
Whyte, bidding on behalf of an Irish collector, considered the price very good value and suggested it might have made more on his side of the Irish Sea. “Oliver Cromwell is not remembered with any affection in Ireland and Irish-related artefacts from the Commonwealth are excessively rare,” he pointed out.
It gives some indication of how the silver and the property market has changed since back in 1967 How of Edinburgh had reportedly priced the porringer at £3000. Whyte estimates that would have bought a three-bed semi-detached house in Dublin in the 1960s.
This was the last sale for department specialist Anderson – taking the reins is consultant Clare Grindey (see Around the auction houses this edition, page 59)– and it proved a memorable one.
A pair of early Charles II trefid spoons, also acquired by Bibby, had been found, unloved, in the family cutlery drawer.
Marked with the initials IK over a rosette for the specialist spoon maker John King, London, 1664, and engraved to the terminals with the coat of arms of the Pyrat family, one of the pair was illustrated in English and Scottish Silver Spoons, Mediaeval to Late Stuart by Commander GEP How (1953) when already part of Bibby’s collection.
They are among the earliestknown spoons of a type that became commonplace in the 1670s and their survival confirms that the trefid – known at the time as ‘French spoons’ – arrived in England from the continent very shortly after the Restoration.
One of the pair has survived in almost mint condition. So well struck are the marks that it is possible to see clearly that the date letter G includes a small pellet in its design – an unusual addition that hints at the scandal that forced a change of assay master at the Goldsmiths Company midway through 1664.
Another spoon sharing the same marks and crest is discussed in the newly-published book Silver Spoons of Britain 1200-1710 by David Constable (2016) suggesting the duo was once part of a set of six or more.
Estimated at a very attractive £1200-1500, they were bought by Godalming dealer Alastair Dickenson on behalf of a client at £5600.
Also from the Bibby collection was a lot of two George I silver kitchen peppers. They were of desirable octagonal form and perhaps 25% larger than most at just under 4in (9.5cm) high.
While both were marked for Glover Johnson (London 1717 and 1718), they were not quite a pair: differences existed in the fleur-de-lys piercing and the ownership initials read G over RE to one base and D over IE to the other. Estimated at £1200-1500, they took £1850, again selling to Dickenson.
Bill Brown collection
The sale included the second tranche of material from the collection of Bill Brown.
His is a name synonymous with the history of cutlery: Museums Sheffield holds 1000 pieces from his collection which together inspired the book British Cutlery.
Brown’s large holdings (more is to come) included gems such as a 17th century provincial silver gilt seal-top spoon estimated here at £300-400 but sold at £3800. Although the maker is inscribed, it was thought to have been made in East Anglia, perhaps on the Norfolk/Suffolk border in the Waveney Valley.
A once more prosaic, but now rare item was a two-part bronze die used in the making of pewter dognose spoons. It sold at £400 (estimate £100-150).