Q: I have many pieces of mismatched antique sterling flatware that have been in my family for generations. I'm trying to identify their patterns, manufacturers and years made for my grandchildren. I also want to tell them the function of some pieces. I think this piece was made by William Blake in 1795 London. However, I still have no idea of what it is. Can you help?
A: Today's lesson for smart collectors is that while a lot of useful info can be accessed on the Internet, hidden nuances sometimes lurk unstated and/or unexplained.
Our reader already knew that her items, including the serving piece, are British sterling.
Hallmarks stamped into the metal do not automatically indicate British or foreign silver. Some American silver makers also used or incorporated hallmarks, but created their own.
The reader adds that she deduced the maker from one of the five stamped marks on the back of the handle. She thinks the serving piece is an embossed ladle or spoon, but the bowl is pierced. Hence the mystery of how it was intended for use.
To be smart, we need to clue readers on hallmarks for British sterling. Reading from left to right, a British silver hallmark has the standard mark indicating purity of the silver; then the city mark; next a letter indicating the date made; a duty mark; and the maker's mark. All are symbols to be decoded. To complicate matters, codes changed occasionally.
We asked third-generation Wisconsin silver specialist Angela Dreis at www.antiquecupboard.com for help in reading images sent. A matching service for sterling silver flatware, the firm carries high end (Tiffany) and Victorian silver, as well as decorative items.
In this case, the standard stamp of a lion passant indicates sterling .925. The city mark of a crowned leopard's head indicates London before 1822. The date mark indicated by the letter U represents 1835.
Knowing how to read the date mark illustrates our lesson about unstated info. According to Dreis, "The font of any letter and the shape of the cartouche behind it are significant." There are other U stamps, but matching the font with stamp shape led us to 1835.
Really smart collectors will note a discrepancy between city and date marks. This is a minor gap and no big deal.
The silversmith or maker's stamp is unidentifiable. I read it as IB, but Dreis thinks it may be a reverse.
Plus, "In those days, I was often substituted for J," she told us. So precisely who made that piece may never be known.
Raised berries on the spoon bowl and a chased floral with scrolls design on the handle scream 19th century Victorian. No way, just from the shape, could this be 18th century.
"My first guess," Dreis added, "is that this is a sugar sifter." Lacking info on size, she figures that a 6.5- to 7-inch spoon would be a sifter. If around 9 inches, it could be a pea spoon. Retail value today is around $400.
FYI: To ID silver hallmarks, Dreis recommends www.925-1000.com online. Links for British, Russian and other world marks are provided.
2013: "Out on the Porch 2013 Wall Calendar" by Workman ($12.99) is an attractive way to combine function with treats for the collector's eye through the coming year. Twelve large photos of porches throughout the world include some with Victorian, wicker, rustic or Adirondack furnishings.
Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to email@example.com or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.