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Ask the Experts: Marks trace silver teapot to London maker, 1772

In the latest Ask the Experts column, Dr. Anthony J. Cavo offers an insightful lesson in reading hallmarks to identify and assess silver heirlooms.

QHello, we love your magazine! Have always wanted to send in a few heirlooms, including a teapot, to Ask the Experts.
I have three items, actually the third is a pair. Here’s the notes written by my mother:

• ENGLISH SILVER TEA POT: 11 inches wide (spout to handle) and 6 inches high, monogram says JR. Only one side in the center of pot handle is very smooth wood — don’t know what kind. Mother purchased it in Philadelphia in 1939 from a Mrs. Reems. Her notes say “made by Robert Hernell 1782?” Bottom says LONDON with some stamps; the etched script is almost illegible. Can make out the name Hernell and also John Wight (sp?).

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• SILVER PLATE: 11 inches wide by 1 1/2 inch high; bottom says London 7134. It’s heavy (reminds me of offering plates at church).

• PAIR OF LOWESTOFT VASES WITH LIDS: 8 1/2 inch high by 7 inch wide, from a relative on my father’s side. William M. Folwell brought these from Canton, China, around 1815-1820 as wedding china. The vases bear paint and reveal a picture of his house in Pennsylvania. The sides have floral designs and handles that look like leaves. My mother’s notes say “Green Fitzhurgh pattern Boogh Vase.” She said that Longwood Gardens wanted these for their museum and had them appraised for $3,000, but didn’t know when. One of the vases shows a repair on the bottom edge, otherwise in good condition.

I would appreciate any information that you might have on these heirlooms that I inherited.
— F.G., via email

Hallmarks Decode Identity of Silver

A Your silver teapot is quite a nice looking piece. The “R.H.” mark was registered in London in 1772 by Robert Hennell I (his son, Robert Hennell II, and grandson, Robert Hennell III were also silversmiths). Each mark or hallmark, as they have commonly come to be known, has a meaning and tells us something about your teapot. The marks tell us what the item is made of, where it was assayed when it was assayed, and who made it.

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The meaning of the marks on your teapot from left to right indicate the following: lowercase “g” is the Date Letter and indicates the year 1782, “R.H.”, known as the Maker’s Mark identifies the maker as Robert Hennell (interesting in that it was stamped upside down), the Lion Passant was known as the Standard Mark (walking lion) is a Government Assay Office Stamp that ensures the quality of the silver is .925 with 925 parts out of 1000 being silver (925/1000) and .75 being another alloy (usually copper), and Lion’s head erase (Lion’s head with a crown) is the City Mark and indicates the city of London.

Teapot Handle Material Reveals More Truth

Based on the photograph, the scroll handle appears to be wood or even horn. The script, quite possibly a sentiment accompanying the gift of the pot, or a note commemorating an event, could probably tell you much more about the piece if you could have it deciphered. I would love a shot at it if you are able to scan it or take a better photograph.

This Georgian teapot with shapely sides is a beauty and is valued in the $1,100 to $1,200 range and quite possibly more if the inscription can be deciphered.

Your second item is a pair of Chinese Import Bough Pots in a green monochrome pattern dubbed the Fitzhugh pattern, which was made solely for export. The Fitzhugh pattern first appeared during the 1780s and remained popular for about forty years; this fits in with your date of 1815 to 1820. The pattern consists of four plants or floral groups evenly spaced around a central panel. In rare pieces, such as yours, the panel may contain a scenic view. The lids are a dome shape with five holes that separate and stabilize decorative boughs. The tops of your pots are decorated with cross hatchings much like those seen in ivory.

Age of Bough Pots Speaks to Export/Import History

If you know for certain that these pots were brought from China they cannot be Lowestoft, which was only made in England between the years 1757 to 1802. Some export porcelain made and decorated in China was confused with Lowestoft and is still erroneously referred to as Oriental or Chinese Lowestoft. Deciphering the distinction between Chinese import and Lowestoft is further compounded by the fact that Lowestoft, in business from 1757 to 1802, did not have a factory mark. Many pieces were dated, or bore the name of the family who commissioned the work; other pieces bore the words, “A Trifle from Lowestoft.” Oddly enough, some Lowestoft bore marks of Worcester or Meissen.

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Lowestoft is available to date of the pattern, color, underglaze or overglaze decoration. I believe your bough pots are indeed Chinese export from the early nineteenth century. The provenance and charming scene add considerably to the value, which is in the $8,000 to $12,000 range. The range is so wide as a result of the unique characteristics of the pair and I would not be surprised if they sell for the high estimate or more at an established auction house, in a well-advertised auction.

Looks Like Silver, Is Actually Pewter

Your final item, the metal plate, is actually not silver but old English pewter. To give justice to a discussion of pewter will take a bit of room. Because of space requirements/limitations, my assessment of the plate will appear in a separate column in the near future.

About our columnist:
Dr. Anthony J. Cavo is an honors graduate of the Asheford Institute Of Antiques and a graduate of Reisch College of Auctioneering. He has extensive experience in the field of buying and selling antiques and collectibles; at age 18, he became one of the youngest purchasers and consigners of antiques and art for a New York auction house. Mr. Cavo is an active dealer in the antiques and collectibles marketplace in the U.S. and abroad.

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