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Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Newsletter #100 - January 2020

Antique Silver Stamp Boxes and Cases

Silver stamp boxes are known with hallmarks dating from 1860, though any such box dated before 1890 is very unusual. Robert Hennell of London made a sprung stamp applicator in both silver and brass from 1869, employing a design patented by Sir John Macneill in 1868. Joseph Taylor of Birmingham registered a stamp locket with a swiveling inner sleeve in January 1880 (the earliest known registered stamp box or case made in silver) and another manufacturer (hallmark M.W.) of the same city registered a square box with a sprung compartment in June of the same year. However, it was not until ten years later that silver desk boxes and silver and gold cases for stamps became widely produced. This development appears to be largely a response to the general fall in world silver prices which accelerated in the 1890s and continued up to the outbreak of the First World War. Silver prices more than halved between 1874 and 1894. The fortunate coincidence of expanding home and world markets, a precious metal now affordable for the production of relatively mundane articles, and an established skilled (and cheap) labour force in both the jewellery and silversmith industries in Birmingham and London combined to allow the full expression of the innate inventiveness of the Victorian designer.

The period 1890-1914 may well be described as the golden age of the stamp box. British desk boxes of this period could be either relatively plain or highly embossed, but examples produced in the USA tend to be quite ornate. French boxes in silver are uncommon but where found are very stylish. An apparently popular design in Britain was the curved trough with one or more compartments standing on four ball feet with a single hinged lid displaying a stamp (or stamps) behind glass. Another attractive design made throughout the period from around 1898 to 1914 was the single or multiple compartment box with a sloping top and a gadrooned base. Like the trough, such boxes had a single hinged lid with a stamp or stamps behind glass. A cheaper form of the sloping top box had the body of the box made from leather but with a silver glazed lid. Desk boxes with individually opening glazed compartments are much more unusual than those with a single hinged lid.

Precise dating and identification of manufacturer is generally straightforward for British boxes because of the hallmarking system. Marks on Tiffany and Gorham boxes from the USA can also be used to give this information. Generally, however, it is only the manufacturer of American silver boxes that can be identified, and approximate dates of manufacture have to be inferred from the design and ornamentation of the box. Apart from Dutch boxes, continental silver boxes rarely carry anything more than an indication of country of origin and fineness of silver used in manufacture. Silver stamp cases were primarily manufactured in Britain and the USA, though examples from Germany and Denmark are also known.

Cases can be sub-divided into those that have suspension loops from which they could be suspended from a chain, and pocket cases. The best examples of the former display enameled representations of stamps. Top quality lockets might have both a push button release and a sprung compartment for ease of stamp extraction.

Both Britain and the USA produced cases to hold strips of stamps around a central spindle. The USA specialised in the production of small ornate cases very like the match cases (or vesta cases) available at the same time. Also to be found are cases for Fraternal Orders such as the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks and cases made for exhibitions.

In Britain, the most common form of locket in silver was the envelope. These were also made in gold. A surprising variety of envelope designs was made, with the peak period of production being between 1903 and 1910. Four manufacturers (Adie and Lovekin, Gourdel, Vales & Co, A.E. Jenkins and Crisford & Norris) were responsible for the bulk of envelope production, with A.E. Jenkins (often confused by auctioneers with the better known firm of A.E. Jones) of Birmingham being both the most prolific and the most inventive of these makers.

Pocket cases in silver appear to have preceded the locket and were made throughout this period. The most popular design seems to have been the flat double case patented in 1903 by Ahronsberg Brothers. This was also made in gold and in EPNS. Cases were made in Britain to take stamp booklets as soon as these were introduced in 1904. Attractive locket/pocket cases can be found which display a combination of uses, one of which is to hold stamps. The most usual combinations are with vesta cases, cigarette cases, card cases and sovereign cases. Vesta cases in particular display an impressive variety of ways to include a stamp compartment, both internally and externally to the body of the case and may also extend to further compartments for photographs and sovereigns. An early example (the patent was taken out in 1887) combined a vesta case with a stamp case, propelling pencil and toothpick.

Silver items for the desk were often designed to incorporate a compartment to hold stamps, and some of the most attractive stamp box items are to be found in this category. The list of such objects is very wide, and includes inkwells, pen trays, paper weights, paper knives, watch stands, calendars, postal scales, blotters, dampers and note
pads. Inkwell combination pieces were made both as desk items and in the form of traveling inkwells or writing sets.

Some of the most sought after items are the Novelty Silver Stamp Boxes. Also intended as desk pieces, a range of novelty silver stamp boxes was produced with the firm of Saunders and Shepherd at the forefront of this type of innovative design. The severely impractical wheelbarrow is perhaps the best known, but other such objects include a garden trug, a cigar box, a sledge, a sedan chair, a golf club, a bee hive, a knife box, a dog kennel, a lectern, a coal scuttle, several lanterns and a variety of imitation desks, tables and chests of drawers.

The photograph above illustrates a small collection of Stamp Boxes that we currently have in stock.

Featured Item
Possibly "the rarest of all nineteenth century hallmarks".


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Cased Pair Silver & Enamel Menu Holders Oxford University & Charterhouse School Edwardian Novelty Silver Monkey Holding A Staff Pin Cushion 'Cymric' Silver & Enamel Coronation Spoon - Archibald Knox Rare Victorian Silver Castle Top Vinaigrette - Lowther Castle
George V Silver & Enamel 'Leys School' Cambridge Vesta Case Handmade Arts & Crafts Silver 'Apple Tree' Caddy Spoon Victorian Novelty Silver Owl Propelling Pencil Victorian Silver Vesta Case incorporating a time piece

Once again I am pleased to be able to update the site this month with over 50 new items of stock and some highlights include; a cased Pair Silver & Enamel Menu Holders depicting the coats of arms of Oxford University & Charterhouse School, a rare Edwardian Novelty Silver Monkey Holding A Staff Pin Cushion, a 'Cymric' Silver & Enamel Coronation Spoon designed by Archibald Knox, an extremely rare Victorian Silver Castle Top Vinaigrette depicting Lowther Castle, a George V Silver & Enamel 'Leys School' Cambridge Vesta Case, a handmade Arts & Crafts Silver 'Apple Tree' Caddy Spoon, a Victorian Novelty Silver Owl Propelling Pencil and a fine quality Victorian Silver Vesta Case incorporating a time piece.


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


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Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Ltd · PO Box 608 · Sittingbourne, Kent ME10 9GT · United Kingdom

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