The postscript in last week’s post about obscure reference texts and wild goose chases, led to an email in my inbox. The reader wanted to know, ‘Why should I find a silver catalog for my pattern? Once I know the name and maker of it, isn’t that all the information I need to build my collection?’
While it is entirely possible to build a collection without ever looking at a silver catalog, I believe there are two very specific reasons that it is worth trying to find one.
For individual piece identification
With all of that Victorian silliness over 4 o’clock spoons, 5 o’clock spoons, teaspoons, chocolate spoons and all sorts of other spoons, you want to make sure you are buying the correct piece.
The tendency for antique and vintage sets to be broken up over time means that most of us end up putting together our own sets. A few forks here, you might strike lucky and find a lot of 12 knives somewhere else, but it is far too easy to think you are buying one thing and end up with another. If the pieces you end up purchasing are rare then it can make completing a set extremely difficult.
I have three Louis XV large gumbo spoons. I knew when I bought them that others might be difficult to find, but it would have been awful if I bought them thinking they were regular soup spoons and then got stuck when searching for more.
To prevent unwitting purchase of ‘altered wares’
This subject is one near and dear to my heart. Be aware that there are altered-wares out there, it’s fine if you know and understand what they are when making a purchase, not fine at all if you don’t know.
Two common examples of altered wares are ice cream spoons and baked potato forks. Some vintage patterns had these pieces, many do not. But enterprising individuals can cut out ‘new’ ice cream spoons out of teaspoons, and likewise clip the two middle tines out of a dinner fork, twist the two outer tines and voila a baked potato fork! With potato forks the general rule is that if it has three twists it’s altered, real ones had 4. But other pieces are much more difficult to spot.
Altered wares are not limited to these pieces, another common example is re-using knife handles to create hybrid serving pieces.
The photos above show a typical example of altered or hybrid serving pieces. I saw the item in the top photo on eBay and knew I had to have it for my education collection. Someone had taken a knife handle (as shown in photo #2) and glued in a modern stainless steel pie serving blade.
If you didn’t know this was altered, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that this was a genuine, original piece. After all many modern pieces are manufactured like this!
However, with a vintage set the serving pieces are almost always works of art in and of themselves. Looks at the fancy shoulders on the real pie server. See how the blade scoops just a little to transport the dessert in safety. Just gorgeous.
Pieces like the top one are a disservice to everyone. Not only do they reduce the number of often difficult to find knife handles (of the absolutely necessary pieces, knives are always the most difficult things to find) but it also creates a false expectation about the cost of real serving pieces. I think I paid less than $100 for the altered pie server. I knew what it was when I bought it and thought it worth the money so I could show people a concrete example when I blog and when I speak in person. A real pie server, depending on the pattern and which server it is (because there are several different types) can range from $300 on up.
So all of that’s why I urge you to get yourself a silver catalog if at all possible. It educates and protects you while you are making potentially significant investments in antique and vintage silver.
Vintage paper ephemera sellers on Etsy and eBay are great sources for original ads, price lists and catalogs. The Eden Sterling Company has done us all a huge favor by reproducing and publishing the full catalogs of a number of antique patterns.