Although known before the reign of Charles II (1660-1685) there are so few silver candlesticks in existence that it is virtually impossible to describe a definitive style and there would be little chance to acquire any examples.
The earliest examples of English silver candlesticks tend to be made of hammered sheet metal but by the later seventeenth century candlesticks made by the method of casting was the prevailing method of manufacture right up to the 1770s when the stamping of candlesticks from sheet metal became the dominant technique.
Candlesticks right up to the mid eighteenth century are usually of a relatively small size with the great majority in the 6-to-8-inch range (15.25 cm-20.3 cm) and are mostly made without detachable nozzles. By the mid eighteenth-century candlesticks are usually in the 8–12-inch height range (20.3 cm-30.5 cm) and made with nozzles.
For an overview of some of the major styles available from c1680-c1780 please look at the inset photograph which gives an idea of the major styles that can be found with their approximate dates, this is by no means a definitive list.
By the later 18th century onwards styles become somewhat more varied and often hark back to earlier times. When purchasing candlesticks condition is of utmost consideration and here at William Walter we probably have one of the finest collections of candlesticks from the early eighteenth century right up to the present day with several pairs and sets of four with important and interesting historical connections.
I am sometimes asked why so little silver survives before the middle of the seventeenth century. Was it because little was made? Was it not fashionable? The answer to the question is not totally straightforward as there are a multitude of factors that come together to provide the answers.
To set the scene it is worth investigating a little bit of the history of England in say the late 15th century to early 16th centuries. The population of England today is somewhere around 56 million people but in 1500 it was marginally less than 3 million. The demographic of this small population would have been somewhat different as todays with a lot of very poor people and the nation’s wealth in the hands of a wealthy elite. The middle class of today was broadly non-existent. Other considerations would be the demand for silver articles and the cost of silver both in terms of the raw material and the workmanship.
As mentioned in previous blogs the cost of workmanship was relatively low as compared to today. But what of the price of silver? It is at this point that most people would be somewhat shocked. The cost of silver in 1477 for example was (rebased into 2022 US dollars) approximately 1400 dollars per ounce (more than £1000 pounds per ounce. When one sees that today it trades at just over 22 dollars per ounce (£16.50) it is obvious how valuable the metal was – and renders the claim by financial professionals that bullion has given great protection against fiat money and inflation as nonsense. Even when The Potosi silver mines (Bolivia)opened in The New World in 1545 the silver price remained in the 3-400 hundred US dollar range (£ 230-300 pounds) well into the seventeenth century.
So how much silver was made and where has it all gone? When one looks at sixteenth century inventories one can see the wealthy had a broad range of objects. It is amazing today when looking at them that for example such obvious items as candlesticks are mentioned. Today I know of no sixteenth century candlesticks that exist and have only ever bought and sold two pairs of Charles II candlesticks (c 1670) in forty years. Having established that even a small spoon would have cost over a thousand pounds in the early 1500s it should be obvious how highly prized it was.
So where has it all gone? There are two main reasons for its disappearance. Silver was very much fashion driven a little like modern day clothing for example. When a piece of silver started to look a little old fashioned in form it would have been melted down so it could be reused and reworked into a more modern form. The other main reason was that various English Kings needed money. Henry VIII in the 1530s appropriated and destroyed an awful lot of silver with the dissolution of the monasteries and Charles I and Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s needed ready cash to pay their troops. When you add in The Fire of London and general wear and tear and loss you start to build a picture.
What is somewhat strange in my eyes is that the value of some of this very early silver is far too low in respect to its rarity. For example, a reasonably good Elizabethan seal top spoon from say 1580 can be bought for around £3000-4000 pounds. At the present time (2022) I have for sale a Mary Tudor master apostle spoon from 1555(£15,500 pounds) which is the only example of Mary Tudor silver for sale on the world market.
At this present time there is only one piece of Henry VIII (1528) for sale on the world market as well!
The answer to this conundrum is highlighted when someone wearing a Rolex watch which would cost more than the spoon enquires why a spoon is so much money. It would perhaps be wasted on him to say that this is over 450 years and the only piece of Mary Tudor silver for sale in the world (other than coins which are reasonably plentiful) and I could buy several thousand examples of his watch within the day(after all Rolex make over a million watches a year!)
Before I answer the question in the title, I would just like to explain the terms flatware and cutlery. If one were being pedantic, spoons and forks should be referred to solely as flatware and knives as cutlery. Due to the passage of time, cutlery is now the dominant term for both knives, forks and spoons in England whilst the correct term flatware – for spoons and forks – is still used more commonly (correctly) in America.
A cutler in earlier times only ever made knives and a flatware maker spoons and forks. This is the reason why in an old set of flatware, the knives tend to be made by a different maker. When one considers buying cutlery or flatware (whatever your preference!) it makes little or no sense in buying newly made. Why is that you may ask? Quality and price are the two main reasons. When cutlery was made in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the early part of the 20th, it was made by the hand forging process.
A spoon and fork were hammered and shaped from a block of silver by hand which was a lengthy and laborious process. Nevertheless, when a spoon or fork is made by hand the repeated hammering and annealing processes involved eventually stiffen the spoon so it will feel like sprung steel if one tries to bend it. When a spoon or fork is made today, or in the last say 80 years, they are generally stamped on a machine which gives the metal far less durability to wear and tear as it lacks the tensile strength of the hand forged product (and also makes the shapes of the bowls of the spoons and tines of the forks less attractive). If the cutlery has a pattern to it, a modern machine-made set would have far less definition than the antique equivalent. It is for these reasons that a 200-year-old cutlery set is generally found in better condition than a 50-year-old machine-made set.
Why do people buy new then? My answer would probably be ignorance (I don’t wish to sound rude). Why would one buy an inferior machine-made modern cutlery set which will cost approximately three times as much as a hand forged antique set from 100 or 200 years ago. If one were to make a modern hand forged set to rival those of yesteryear, one would be talking five times the cost of the antique equivalent. The word for example “handcrafted” or “handmade” is often used today rather disingenuously (it normally means someone at sometime during the machine manufacturing process has touched it!) When making silverware (or most other products) it always must be kept in mind that labour rates were far cheaper years ago (perhaps three to four times lower than today). On the flip side, raw materials were far more expensive – silver compared to today’s inflation adjusted was about four times the price in the 18th century.
Antique silver cutlery makes a beautiful statement on any table and is extremely undervalued. I was wandering through a large London department store (I won’t name it!) the other day and stopped to look at a display of modern machine-made cutlery (described as handcrafted). I looked at the individual price list and they were selling a new sterling silver old English pattern table fork for £375. I can sell about four 18th century, beautifully made originals for that price or a set of six forks machine-made (second hand as new). When it comes to knives the debate over old or new shifts somewhat as compared to the debate over spoons and forks.
Customers often come in and say to me “why have I not got any knives with an antique set of cutlery”. Most people don’t realise that stainless steel (as known today) was only invented in 1913. Previous to this, knives were all carbon steel and had to be sharpened and oiled (to prevent corrosion). So although I keep a large stock of early knives – both with original blades and sometimes re-bladed with stainless steel blades – I would often recommend buying more recent knives with antique cutlery sets. Unlike the making of spoons and forks which has clearly regressed over the centuries, knife technology has moved on somewhat. Most pre-First World War knives used a pitch (tar) filling to attach the handle to the blades. Nowadays an epoxy resin is used. This means that modern knives can generally be put in dishwashers. Boiling water or dishwashers would generally cause the blade to come out of the handle on old knives which can be rectified but not ideal. Knives were traditionally made in silver, bone or after about 1915 bakelite or some other composite material as well. Contrary to popular belief, silver can be put in the dishwasher although it is always best to separate the knives. Never let the knife blades touch the rest of the spoons and forks as there is a chance that the stainless-steel blades will get marked due to a form of electrolysis that takes place between the silver and the steel. The use of silver cutlery apart from aesthetic considerations is also beneficial on a hygiene and health level. Silver, along with gold and to a lesser extent copper, has a powerful antibacterial effect which stainless steel doesn’t. Any germs that touch silver are neutralised (even if you haven’t cleaned the silver).
At William Walter Antiques we have an enormous quantity of antique silver flatware and cutlery both in the form of complete sets and loose pieces. Many clients are missing a few pieces from their existing sets, and we are normally able to help.
If you have any queries concerning flatware/cutlery, please do not hesitate to contact us. We also probably have one of the largest collections of early spoons – including the earliest hallmarked spoon in the world for sale at the moment (1528) and the finest set of twelve Tudor period spoons seen this century.
In my last blog I made an attempt to calculate the cost of producing silverware in the late 18th century with reference to a modern perspective, and came to the conclusion that the real cost of the raw material (silver) was approximately four times higher in real terms inflation adjusted than today (2021), but the cost of labour was at least three times cheaper. But what was the real cost of producing silver by the 1930s?
To assist me with this, I have found one of my grandfather’s manufacturers catalogues from the early 1930s. The catalogue was produced by James Dixon and Sons of Sheffield – one of the largest manufacturers of general silverware during this period. The next question to be addressed, is what was the price of silver and how much to allow for 90 years of inflation. The price of silver is an easy answer, as during the early 1930s it averaged between 7-10 pence (whereas in the latter part of the 18th century it averaged 26 pence). We can now see that the price of the raw material (silver) had collapsed inflation adjusted to about 80 to 90 percent of its former value (late 1700s).
The new price of a pair candelabra in 2021 term approx. £3,000 a pair with silver at 7-10 per ounce. Second-hand price £980.00 for this single James Dixon candelabrum, with silver at £19 per ounce.
Using Humes measuring worth site and comparing different products (including pints of Guinness and Mars bars!), I have settled on a multiplier of about 100 times from the early 1930s to 2021. On this basis, we can now see that the raw material (silver) was approximately £7 to £10 an ounce adjusted to a modern context (2021). The price of silver today is around £19 per ounce – so in real terms about double the 1930s price but still only a quarter of the late 18th century price.
The next step is to examine the items for sale in the catalogue that are manufactured today. On examination of various commonly made items such as salvers, candelabra and tea sets, it is clear that adjusting for inflation and the fact that the real price of silver is now double that, manufacturing in the 1930s probably averaged 40 percent cheaper than today. It is also noticeable, that if the article is of a complex nature with a lot of labour needed, the difference is even greater. Even though labour was clearly cheaper in the 1930s, it was still more than double the price of 1787 (the year I selected for my first blog). When one compares the relative costs today, manufacturing new silver makes little sense. For example, new ten inch silver salvers are around £2000 whereas a better made 1930s equivalent (new retail price 1930s approx. £1100 in 2021 prices) would sell for around £600 – £700 and an 18th century original (which is better made than both the previous!) would be somewhere say around £1500. The problem that a modern silversmith encounters is a combination of labour rates and the relative inexpensiveness of the antique equivalent.
A 16 ounce Teapot by James Dixon new price 1930s £1115.00 at £7 – £10 per ounce; even with the silver price double today the second hand item is still around 40% cheaper at £685.00 with silver at £19 per ounce.
When I started in the family business in the early 1980s, we used to commission and sell 18th century reproduction coffee pots for around 400 pounds (The original mid eighteenth-century pot sold for around 3000 pounds). To make and sell a brand new one today would be about 2500-3000 pounds and to buy the original would be cheaper than a new one! The upshot to this is that 40 years ago we could make seven or eight pots for the price of an original and now we sell originals for less than a new one and reproductions from the 20th century can be bought for around 700-900 pounds. Unfortunately, this scenario can be seen in most art and architecture – if you ever wondered why modern buildings are so devoid of artistry, look no further than labour costs (superb detail which used to be a prerequisite is now redundant). When I see adverts for new build flats with slogans such as “cool contemporary living”, the cynic in me thinks soulless overpriced box!
The number of manufacturing silversmiths today would be a mere fraction of those even 30 – 40 years ago as they would find it impossible to compete with the antique market and many have either retired, moved into restoration, or changed career. This scenario is repeated in many other areas. As an example, there were 360 piano manufacturers at the time of the First World War – there are now none in England.
In my next blog, I’ll be talking about the relative values of antique silver over the past half century in relation to a modern context.
William Walter Antiques was founded in the 1930s by William Walter himself, who established his first showroom in London’s historical West-End after serving in the Army during the First World War.
Throughout the Second World War, William Walter’s antique silver was stored in the Chancery Lane Safe Deposit, which is now known as the London Silver Vaults.
The modern incarnation of William Walter’s showroom currently resides in Vaults 3 and 5 of the London Silver Vaults.
William Walter’s expertise has been passed down through the generations – John Walter’s impeccable antique silver knowledge is the foundation of William Walter Antiques today.
William Walter Antiques: A Family Business
A family business, William Walter Antiques is now led by John Walter.
Over our century-long history, we have been thoroughly immersed in London’s illustrious antique industry and are proudly located at the heart of the silverware trade.
An industry such as the silverware industry is built and maintained on the principles of passion and professional integrity.
Today, William Walter Antiques is a proud member of three major antique associations;
Our professional integrity and dedication to the field of silverware are evidenced by our membership to these 3 professional bodies.
What is BADA? (The British Antiques Dealers’ Association)
William Walter has been a member of BADA since 1953.
BADA was founded in 1918, making it one of Britain’s oldest antique trade associations.
With 350 members, BADA, similarly to LAPADA, only enrols members with a proven record of excellence in their field. Membership to the internationally-recognised BADA involves a rigorous assessment by the Council. Longstanding professional integrity, quality of stock and knowledge are all taken into account prior to membership, and members must uphold BADA’s Bye-laws which provide professional obligations for all its members.
William Walter’s membership of BADA illustrates our technical expertise as well as our dedication to the field of antiques.
What is LAPADA? (The Association of Art and Antique Dealers)
William Walter is a member of LAPADA – The Association of Art and Antique Dealers.
Founded in 1947, LAPADA is the largest association of professional art and antique dealers in the UK.
Whilst LAPADA is primarily a UK art and antique association, it now has over 50 members from 16 other countries worldwide. There are currently some 550 members in total.
The purpose of LAPADA is to ensure and uphold the knowledge, expertise and experience of its members in their respective fields.
Between its 550 members, LAPADA’s knowledge-base spans everything from fine art to silverware and many niche antique disciplines. Membership is only granted to those with proven prerequisite knowledge and experience in their fields.
The quality of stock is also taken into account when granting membership.
LAPADA has established a Codes of Practice and offers a free Conciliation Service. The Association protects both antique dealers and their customers. William Walter’s longstanding association with LAPADA denotes our experience, quality of stock and knowledge in the field of fine antique silverware.
What is CINOA? (Confédération Internationale des Négociants en Oeuvres d’Art)
William Walter is a member of CINOA, one of the world’s largest antiques and art federations.
Formed and based in Brussels, Belgium, CINOA currently represents some 5000 dealers across 22 countries. CINOA works closely with antique and art associations like BADA and LAPADA; its purpose is to set international benchmarks for the professional integrity and operations of the industry.
CINOA is a centre of shared knowledge and expertise, unifying antique and art dealers from all over the world. The federation closely monitors the global arts and antiques market and policy, disseminating key information through its network of associations. William Walter is a member of BADA which grants automatic membership to CINOA.
What This Means For You
For you, our membership to these associations and federations is a hallmark of our expertise, knowledge, integrity and dedication to the customer.
William Walter Antiques is a long-established family business situated at the heart of London’s silver market. We pride ourselves on our exceptional level of expertise and customer service.
Our dedication to the field of antique silverware is ongoing and our work is never finished – we work with our professional partners to honour our professional obligations whilst contributing to the field of antique silverware.
William Walter Antiques’ expertise covers fine silverware from the 16th-century to the present day. Spanning many monarchial periods, our stunning stock of silverware covers everything from salvers and trays to candlesticks and tableware.
We stock many of silverware’s most historic esteemed makers and have acquired some wonderfully impressive pieces throughout our nearly century-long history.
Silver reacts to the air we breathe, whose elements are Sulphur and Oxygen. It is sulphur that causes silver to tarnish.
You can display your piece in a glass cabinet which reduces the air circulation, therefore the sulphur contact is diminished. Anti-tarnish strips can also be purchased which absorbs the sulphur, therefore, taking it out of the air which helps prevent the silver tarnishing.
Cutlery/flatware can be stored in tarn proof bags which are chemically treated to keep the sulphur out. When storing silver, acid-free tissue paper should be used and never leave rubber bands around anything. You should avoid letting vinegar come into contact with silver; some window cleaning sprays contain it and should not be used in the vicinity of silver pieces.
As with everything, silver must be cleaned. It is essential that you do not use anything abrasive; in order to prevent damage to the surface, always use a soft cloth or duster. The polish used at William Walter Antiques is Silvo which comes in a liquid form or wadding impregnated with the polish. We recommend you use the liquid on silver-plated items as the wadding is slightly more abrasive. For ornate silver items, you use a brush with soft bristles, covered with a duster to remove any encrusted polish. To clean glass, for example, the interior of a decanter, you can use denture cleaning tablets. To remove tannin from the inside of teapots, you can use dissolved soda crystals.
Once your silver is clean, and to avoid regular polishing, you use anti-tarnish mitts and cloths. Silver polishing mitts are the quick and easy way to clean silver and remove tarnish. The mitts contain a special blend of cleaners and anti-tarnish protection which gives a deep and long-lasting shine. Each mitt is lined for added comfort.
William Walter Antiques stocks Town Talk polishing mitts and a range of their anti-tarnish storage bags.
If you have a problem with a certain piece, please contact us for advice.