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Antiques: Celebrating centuries of silver service to the nation; Rummaging through the kitchen cutlery drawer Harry Hawkes takes a look at the stirring history of the humble spoon.

Byline: Harry Hawkes

More and more dog lovers are turning to collecting dogs on stamps. Royal Mail has just issued a set of ten self-adhesive 1st Class stamps showing cats and dogs - five of each - while Sweden has just issued these four stamps in a booklet as a tribute to the dedication shown by many of the country's 800,000 dogs.

The stamps show (left to right) a golden retriever in its role as family pet and guardian; an Alsatian rescue dog which can scent a person buried under ten metres of snow after an avalanche; a Labrador, trained to act as the eyes or ears of blind or deaf people; and a wire-haired Dachshund extensively used for hunting.

In the history of eating utensils one particular implement has served mankind (literally) through thick and thin, largely unaltered in basic shape for hundreds of years.

As fashions changed over the years, variations of the spoon emerged to meet all sorts of specific tasks. Tiny salt spoons, special-sized medicine spoons, fancy seaside spoons with delicately painted bowls, they come in all shapes and sizes.

Next Tuesday (March 6) an extremely rare collection of early English spoons forms the highlight of a silver sale at London's Knightsbridge salesrooms of Bonhams and Brooks.

Collected over a period of 40 years, between 1940 and 1980, this impressive collection is expected to sell for more than pounds 50,000 with the individual lots having estimates ranging from pounds 300 to pounds 8,000. The sale gives an insight into the wide range of rare craftsmanship shown by English silversmiths working from about 1300 up to 1684.

The collection was formed by Mr Roland Winfield, a wartime RAF officer. Born in 1910, he served throughout the Second World War, joining in 1939 as an aviation medical officer and eventually retiring from the service in 1947. Subsequently, Mr Winfield became a Fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, lecturing in Physiology.

The earliest spoon featured in the sale dates from about 1300 and is decorated with a knop finial modelled as an acorn. This particular silver spoon is not only the oldest in the sale, it also has one of the most improbable background stories. It was spotted by him at Burnham-on-Sea while on holiday in Somerset during 1951. He could hardly believe his luck when he was able to snap up such an absolute bargain for only pounds 1. Now, 50 years later, his pounds 1 bargain buy is expected to fetch pounds 1,800 to pounds 2,200.

While most early silver in England was plundered, stolen and melted down, from the medieval period onwards spoons were kept as an important personal item to be passed down through the family. As such they have remained the only example of early English silver possible to collect.

From peasant to nobleman, a man would be required to carry his personal spoon and knife to any function attended. The lower echelons of society would use wood or horn and this would change to pewter, brass and finally silver in keeping with their social standing.

The spoon, as we know it, started as the Roman silver ligula which was a direct impression in metal of a mussel shell attached to a wooden handle. The first spoons in the early English vein were generally six or seven inches long with a fig-shaped bowl, a stem hexagonal in cross-section and completed with a finial or knop.

Figural knops, such as the lion sejant (seated) and maidenheads (images of the Virgin Mary) were very popular during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Maidenheads, which traditionally sported a period headdress, were slowly phased out leaving the Virgin's hair flowing freely. Of interest is an Elizabethan maidenhead spoon, made in York, c.1565, showing a maker's mark M and prick dot initialling to the reverse (pounds 800-pounds 1,200).

The most famous spoons from late 15th century to mid 17th century England are so-called apostle spoons. They were made in sets comprising the 12 apostles together with the Master (Jesus), but were sold individually. Apostle spoons were generally given as a christening present to a saint's namesake and each can be identified by the symbol held in the saint's right hand. The sale includes, as a pair, two Charles I spoons featuring St Andrew and the Master (Jesus) made in 1641 (pounds 8,000-pounds 10,000). For further information about the sale, ring Bonhams and Brooks on 020 7393 3900.

This weekend is your last chance to visit Spring Stampex at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London where displays of stamps, postmarks and postal history from around the world have been on display since last Wednesday. For the first time judging has been taking place for the British entry in the FIP Nations' Cup competition. The four-day show finishes tomorrow afternoon.

Today and tomorrow the international racing circuit at Donington Park, Leicestershire will house an antiques and collectables fair in its Exhibition Centre alongside the track. The fair has been organised by Four In One Promotions (0116 277 4396).
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 3, 2001
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