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Antiques and collecting: Caddy spoons are for the canny collectors; Pieces for the tea table hold a special fascination for Richard Edmonds.

Caddy spoons were always part of the tea ceremony and we generally think of them as dainty silver objects - expensive today - used to bring tea to the warm teapot.

But long before the short stemmed caddy spoon made its appearance, the mote spoon made its debut towards the end of the 17th century.

The London Gazette for 1697, describes them as 'long strainer teaspoons with narrow pointed handles'. The tip of the handle has a sharp point which was used to unblock the teapot's spout since early tea leaves were coarse. The very early mote spoons had tiny perforations in the bowl and their main function was to skim off the dust and the flotsam and jetsam which frequently settled of the surface of the tea before the guest could add the cream and sugar.

Mote spoons are always to be found in silver dealers and some people have made extensive collections of them, and they are part of the history of the tea table.

But as tea packaging became more refined, you no longer needed to skim the tea for dead insects, bits of wood or fluff or whatever, therefore the mote spoon had drifted out of use by the early 19th century.

Caddy spoons, probably still in use today in spite of tea bags, link to the tea caddy and there were some magnificent examples of fine tea caddies to be seen at a recent NEC antiques fair with a price range up the pounds 4,000 mark.

Tea caddies, especially if they bear the Chippendale stamp, are cabinet work at the top of the market and they command a high price.

But tea caddies were also made in silver, ivory and some of them had rolled paper inserted behind glass panels and these things cost a fortune. Caddies were made in fine enamels at Bilston during the 18th century.

Decorated with dainty floral sprigs, they were highly rated at the time and they were sold in wooden boxes lined with velvet and were thought to be not only agreeable but precious.

A small digression might be in order at this point. Sheraton, Heppelwhite and the great Chippendale as we have seen, produced tea caddies in the finest cabinet work. The general pattern was that there were small compartments inside for the tea, but most of the caddies also carried a cut-glass bowl (itself a nice little purchase should you ever come across one). People have generally accepted the notion that these dainty things were there for mixing the different kinds of tea since the caddy once stood in the drawing room next to the tea kettle.

Not at all. The glass bowl was actually used for sugar and if the bowl is obviously a part of the caddy, and if the caddy happens to have silver embellishments which are original to it, then the hallmarks on the silver will give you some indication of the date of the bowl.

Caddy spoons were not supplied with the tea caddy, they were purchased separately. Occasionally, tortoiseshell or ivory spoons are connected to the more important caddies and they were fitted into the lid. But these things are expensive rarities. The only other portable object fitted to the caddy were the sugar tongs, designed to grasp the crude sugar fragments chipped from a sugar cone in the kitchen.

We should remember that caddy spoons were made in a variety of material not only silver. These included polished wood, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, ivory, bone, horn, and ceramics. When my friend and mentor, the late Hanus Wolf (who dealt like a true connoisseur from his Droitwich shop) saw a collection of cut-glass caddy spoons at the glass museum in Kingswinford, he was heard to remark to Charles Hajdamach, the director and a friend, that in many years of dealing he had never handled a glass caddy spoon, so these things are obviously rare.

Chronologically, the fortunes of the highly esteemed Birmingham silversmiths have always seemed to run parallel with those of Sheffield. Assay offices opened in both cities in 1773 which is when the term 'toy' was used. This has nothing to do with the nursery, but was a word used to define every kind of trinket exported from Birmingham all over Europe.

Birmingham silver went everywhere in the 18th century, so never be surprised at what you may find at a French or German antiques fair or market.

The kind of things they sent out - the 'toys' provide an endless list. But you can include caddy spoons, tooth picks, tiny cases in silver and ivory, ink stands, smelling bottles, corset hooks, sugar knippers, snuff boxes, watch chains and so on.

But in the last quarter of the 18th century the Birmingham silversmiths conceived the notion of marketing the caddy spoon and they made them in a variety which today almost defeats the imagination. The leaf forms in the spoons shown in this weeks picture were made by Edward Farrell in London around 1820.

But the Sotherby's sale where they were sold also contained caddy spoons (lot 617) made in Birmingham by those exquisite craftsmen George Unite and Joseph Willmore around 1828 and 1838.

But there are other names to look out for if you are thinking of starting a collection of Birmingham caddy spoons, and its never too late to do such things, although today your hard earned money goes nowhere at an antiques fair if you are spending on upmarket items.

So - think of the Willmores (Thomas and Joseph), Joseph Taylor, Samuel Pemberton, Matthew Linwood and John Lawrence. Taylor and Perry and George Unite always command good prices anywhere in the world where collectors gather be it Montreal or Much Wenlock and Birmingham spoons are notable for their exquisite engraved decoration.

The earliest date for any Birmingham specimen is around 1783 and the example that we know of was made by someone or some firm called called simply IT (nothing is known of this maker). It does leave us with the fact that few Birmingham caddy spoons were made before 1797.

If you are buying it is as well to question carefully anything you may come across which has a date preceding 1797. It is also well to remember that false marks can be restruck on a later spoon in an attempt to pass it off as much earlier than it actually is (this also goes for tankards, jugs, sugar sifters - anything in fact upon which an unscrupulous person can practice cheating).

So as a last word always buy from a respectable well-established dealer. If he is a specialist in silver he will know what he is talking about and you can always go back (clutching your receipt of course) should you have any doubts about the item you have purchased.

Caddy spoons come in all shapes and sizes. Some popular shapes to look out for include hearts, hands, eagles wings, spades, jockeys caps and so on. There are caddy spoons on offer at Fellows & Sons silver sale to be held in Birmingham on Monday next (Lots 394 and 406).

If the subject interests you discuss it with a dealer with whom you are friendly and then you can buy in safety. Always read up on your subject and remember not to over clean silver since it rubs away the precious marks without which the item can lose much of its value.

If you have silver that is precious remember that Sotherby's at Cheltenham is offering free valuations at the moment. Appointments 01242 510500.
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Author:Edmonds, Richard
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 16, 2000
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