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Dee Atkinson & Harrison

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Miniature or toy silverware

December 28, 2017

We shall be auctioning three silver toy or miniature dinner plates on the 9th February. They were brought to the saleroom by a lady who is selling her collection of dolls house dolls in our collector’s sale on the 23rd of March and had a selection of silver pieces for them to use. Whilst cataloguing the mainly early 20th century silver items for the silver section Andrew Spicer was intrigued by these plates as they reminded him of a collection that he dealt with back in 2013 when he worked for Bonhams. At that time he had been asked by the Milntown Trust on the Isle of Man to sell their collection of toy or miniature silver. These items rarely come onto the open market, Christies sold a collection back in 1972, then there was the Milntown collection and in 2015 Bonhams in Edinburgh sold another collection.

These are a George I rare set of three silver miniature or toy dinner plates, by David Clayton, London circa 1720, of plain form, diameter 43 mm, they carry an estimate of £300/400.

The whimsical world of miniatures can be utterly captivating; whether furniture, paintings, books or the newest technology, the tiniest of objects can cause the greatest of delight. This can certainly be said for this magnificent collection of silver miniature objects, which is important not only because of the quantity, but also because of the quality and rarity of the lots being offered. Whilst miniatures were always meant to be handled with care, there are some pieces which should now be considered as worthy museum objects.

The earliest known silver miniatures were made for European Royal families. As discussed by Victor Houart, in his book ‘Miniature Silver Toys’ (New York 1981), p19: “It will never be possible to ascertain precisely whether the first miniature silver articles were made in France or in Germany. We do know, however, that the future King of France, Charles VII, was given a silver-gilt rattle. This was in the year of grace 1404, when Charles was only a year old. Much later, in 1571, Claude of France, daughter of Henry II and Duchess of Loraine, wrote to Hottman, a silversmith, asking him to make a set of little silver household utensils ‘with pots, bowls, plates and other articles of the kind made in Paris’, which she intended to present to the child of the Duchess of Bavaria.”

From the mid- 17th century Dutch silversmiths, especially those in Amsterdam, were producing silver toys. From this early stage they were also exporting the toys to England, where the trend for doll/ baby houses had not yet been realised. This may mean that whilst the toys in Holland were being produced for European ladies to furnish lavish baby houses, they were being played with in England by wealthy young girls. However, England did catch on to the delight of the baby house, as Jonathon Swift writes in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ (1726) of “a set of silver dishes and plates…not much bigger than what I have seen in a London Toyshop for the furniture of a baby house”. It is also worth noting that unlike the Dutch who had many different ways to categorise silver toys and miniature silver, the term ‘silver toys’ in 17th and 18th century England encompassed a wide variety of smaller objects including vinaigrettes and snuffboxes.

This attitude in some circles, as Peter Kaellgren writes in his article, ‘The Clayton Family of Goldsmiths and Jewellers Circa 1658-1743’, has been detrimental to the documentation of silver miniatures; “Researchers have largely neglected small-workers like David Clayton because of the scale of their work….This does not take into account the social importance of silver articles in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries…When first produced, these early silver toys were status symbols and constituted the top level in the toy market.” This lack of research had led to confusion over the identification of some of the miniature maker’s marks. This was further complicated by changes to hallmarking in the late 17th/early 18th century. Toys that were made between 1696 and 1720, followed the convention that the standard of silver rose from 925 to 958/1000; Britannia Standard. In 1720 the Sterling standard of 925/1000 was restored.