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Scottish Silver

Imagine the headline: ‘Single teaspoon realises £950 at auction’

What makes single teaspoon so valuable? The spoon in question was fiddle pattern Peterhead teaspoon by George Angus, circa 1825.

Until a few years ago, this spoon might well have been passed by, however, Scottish provincial silver has been the subject of considerable interest and research which has revealed fascinating new information about previously unknown silversmiths of the 18th and 19th centuries. Pieces which exist from before the Act of Union are extremely rare and valuable, found mainly in museums or in the churches to which they were given.

During the 18th century the design of Scottish silver mirrored the fashions from London and later, from Sheffield and Birmingham, although there were some typically Scottish designs eg the bullet teapot and the Quaich. It’s certainly true to say that Scottish silver is as well made as its southern cousins.

The two centres of Edinburgh and Glasgow produced a fair proportion of the silver of the period – candlesticks, sauceboats, cake stands, tea and coffee sets and, of course, flat-ware, ie spoons and forks. There were one or two more local items such as the bannock in the Royal Museum of Scotland. Extremely rare, it looks like a giant toast rack and was used to carry oatmeal bannocks hot from the griddle. Another typically Scottish utensil is the hash spoon, a giant spoon, perhaps 30 – 40cm long, which was used as a serving spoon for hash, a mixture of meat and potatoes popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.

One of the most popular areas of collecting is silver from the provincial towns made by burgh craftsmen. These gold and silversmiths often carried on allied trades. In fact the early banks were founded and run by gold and silversmiths. George Heriot junior who made his fortune in the late 17th and 18th centuries founded Heriot’s school in Edinburgh, made his fortune from banking although it was not known wherher be produced any actual pieces of silver and gold.

Burgh craftsmen, such as the well known Coline Allan circa 1740-1774 of Aberdeen made fine silver. An entrepreneur, he was also a watchmaker and established a manufactory for sawing and polishing granite slabs, table tops and chimney pieces. He also ground and silvered looking glasses and mirrors of any dimensions, looking glass being very expensive and fashionable in the 18th century.

Most of these makers marked their work by using their initials and one, two or more marks denoting the town. In the case of Coline Allan, they are often CA, ABD and three castles. More rarely found, in Aberdeen silver, is the town mark of a gothic A and the dog and sporran.

The thistle mark was often used by silversmiths in addition to the maker’s name. It’s important to remember that the lion hallmark is not used on Scottish provincial silver except in rare cases. Many silversmiths were itinerant and move around within Scotland, eg from Inverness to Forres in the west and Tain to Wick in the North.

Other town marks to look out for are:
Arbroath: Portcullis
Banff: Banf, Baf, B, fish
Canongate: Stag’s head with or without a cross
Cupar: Fleur de Lys
Dingwall: sunburst
Dumfries: Colied anchor, stag’s head
Dundee: Pot of lilies and later, Dun over Dee
Elgin: Elgn, Eln, E, St Giles
Forres: F or a tower
Greenock: Anchor, or a ship in full sail
Tain: Tain
Wick: Wick

Wonderful examples of Scottish silver can be found in the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Glasgow Galleries, and the museums in Aberdeen, Dumfries, Inverness and Perth.

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