Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Newsletter #17 - November 2012
The tiniest mote of dust, or a tiny piece of a substance; a speck, is how the Oxford English Dictionary describes the Old English word 'Mote', and despite its seriously high price and desirability in the late 17th / early 18th centuries, Tea would have been imported and sold in a relatively crude state containing plenty of dust and large potentially floating tea leaves or Motes. So it was that the silver 'Mote Spoon' or 'Mote Skimmer' as they were originally described, became an important part of the fashionable "Tea Equipage" of the period. The exact use to which they were put is still debated but it seems likely that the pierced bowl would facilitate the removal of some of the dust when lifting the tea from the Caddy to the Pot and also for removing the excess floating leaves and debris from the Cup or Bowl once the tea had been poured. The pointed terminal was used to clear blockages from the grill inside the teapot, and not as some authors would have it; for clearing the curved spout from the front. The spoon could also be used to simply stir the tea within the pot; it was a multi-functional item!

A selection of silver Mote Spoons c1720-1770

Mote Spoons were produced for a relatively short span of years from approximately c1695 through to the 1780's and their forms of construction, style and decoration mirror perfectly the changing fashions and designs of the period. The Mote Spoon evolved in many ways over its short life span. During the late 17th century the mote spoon had a very simple pierced bowl with plain holes and the long thin stem forming the handle was of a uniform thickness. The stem and bowl were made of two pieces, being attached with a soldered "rat-tail". They were usually marked on the bowl. These early 17th century pieces are very rare. During the early 18th century Queen Anne and George I period the bowl remained quite simple, however, a pierced scroll pattern rather than just plain holes starts to appear. The piercing tends to be fairly well spaced out and 'reserved' with no 'crosslets'. At this time, the bowl and stem are made from one piece of silver. The back of the bowl still has a "rat-tail" and the stem starts to taper to a simple point with no 'barb' or finial (a). The marks are now on the stem and would include the maker's mark, perhaps twice, or the maker's mark and the lion passant or Britannia standard marks.

The bulk of Mote Spoons were produced during the George II and early George III period. A shorter "rat tail", drop or double drop, are now found on the back of the bowl. The "Fancy Back" (b) or "Picture Back" (f) similar to contemporary Teaspoons of the period also appear at this time and a shell heel is often found. The bowls now show more elaborate pierced designs of rococo scroll work (e), circles, slats, pales, fleur-de-lys, mushrooms, serifs, and in particular 'crosslets' (c) which really characterised the intricately pierced mid 18th century silver Mote Spoon. Further diversions included the addition of engraving to the design (e) . Particularly fine cast Rococo examples (d & g) are rare and especially sought after. The marks during this period are on the stem and again include the maker's mark struck one or two times (a duty dodger) or the maker's mark struck once and the lion passant struck once. Due to the small circumference of the tapered handles the marks are often poorly struck or "pinched" and quite often indecipherable.

The vast majority of silver Mote Spoons were made in England, and indeed virtually all of those were assayed in London. Scottish & Irish examples are extremely rare and just a few were made in America.

Mote Spoons have become quite sought after and collectable and the price of an 18th century silver Mote Spoon compared to a contemporary silver teaspoon of similar construction and design can be 20 to 30 times higher, so it is perhaps not surprising that fake examples are sometimes found. These are generally converted Teaspoons with reshaped handles and later pierced bowls. One should take note of the length of the spoon and the shape of the bowl as well as the quality of the piercing. Mote Spoons tend (although not always) to be longer than Teaspoons and the bowl shape is generally more elongated and narrow. Mote Spoons rarely exhibit noticeable wear or thinning to the sides of the bowl as might be the case with an adapted Teaspoon. The distinctive and intricate piercing of the bowls with crosslets and other symbols was a highly skilled and time consuming task to perform and might not be repeated by an impatient fraudster (simple drilled holes were not usually found after about 1735).

Length can be a good guide to determine the authenticity of a silver Mote Spoon, but it should be pointed out that genuine mid-18th century miniature or "toy" examples are known as well as huge or extra-long handled versions probably for use in a Tea Urn.

The selection of Mote Spoons illustrated above provides a nice cross-section of the genre, although most have something that just sets them apart from the norm'. The details are as follows:-

a) George I Silver 'Rat-Tail' pattern Mote Spoon, unmarked, London c1720.
b) George II Silver Rococo 'Fancy-Back' Mote Spoon, Elias Cachart, London c1745.
c) George II Silver Mote Spoon 'Diamond Pattern' piercing, Elizabeth Jackson c1750.
d) George II Cast Silver Rococo Acorn Mote Spoon, Francis Harache, London c1750.
e) George II / George III pierced & engraved Silver Mote Spoon, Samuel Key c1750-60.
f) George II / George III Basket of Flowers 'Picture Front' Mote Spoon, 'S.M', c1760.
g) George III Cast Silver 'Feather Edged' Mote Spoon, 'S.J', London c1770.

"A family of three at Tea", Oil Painting by Richard Collins, England c1727.
Is that a silver Mote Spoon in his left hand?

We are pleased to announce a repeat of last years "Christmas Drinks Party"

at Christopher Buck Antiques
50-60 Sandgate High Street,
Kent CT20 3AP.

On Saturday 8th December, 11am to 5pm.

Please email for an invitation to join us for Champagne and Canapés and to view our latest collections.

2 Lowestoft Curtis Design Sparrowbeak Jugs Christians Liverpool Blue & White Sauceboat Duesbury Derby Chocolate Cup, Cover & Stand Warwick Castle Vinaigrette
Pens / Pencils & Writing Equipment Scent Bottles Sovereign Cases Wine & Sauce Labels

I am pleased to be able to update the site this month with over 60 new items of stock and some highlights include additions to the Wine & Sauce Label Category, 2 Lowestoft Curtis Design Sparrowbeak Jugs, some interesting new additions to the Pens / Pencils & Writing Equipment Category, a Christians Liverpool Blue & White Sauceboat, a Warwick Castle Vinaigrette, a Duesbury Derby Chocolate Cup, Cover & Stand, and some new additions to the Scent Bottle and Sovereign Case Categories.

I do hope that you will find this Newsletter informative and helpful and will allow us send it to you on a regular basis. I would welcome any feedback you may have, both positive and negative.

David W.A. Buck.
Steppes Hill Farm Antiques