WEIGHTY SILVER

As already intimated, at the beginning of the nineteenth century most of the plate was heavy and very substantial, both in design, and in the manner of ornament. Now and then large stores of late Georgian silver come into the market, and then it is that the collector can compare the different articles that were produced at that time, and also form some idea of the variations which have taken place in more recent times. That is to say the differences which have been made by the silversmiths in producing domestic articles for similar uses, and also the modifications which have been found necessary in consequence of the alterations made in modern modes of entertainment, and in the display adopted in table decoration. A very notable opportunity of forming a correct opinion of the plate chests of well-to-do people early in the nineteenth century was given a few years ago when the Coutts' heir-looms were on view at Christie's salerooms, having been brought to light after being stored away in the vaults of Coutts' Bank in the Strand for about three-quarters of a century. Most of these pieces of domestic plate were made to the order of Mr. Thomas Coutts, the banker, for Harriet Mellon the actress, whom he married in 1815, and who afterwards became the Duchess of St. Albans. There were many famous pieces in that collection, notably two immense silver-gilt centrepieces, 19 inches high, weighing 1,233 ounces, the handicraft of Paul Storr, who completed them in 1816. The same famous artist also supplied the wealthy banker with sixteen entree dishes and covers, which weighed 1,817 ounces. Mr. Coutts also owned 36 dinner plates, weighing 877 ounces, and six large sauce boats, and a vast number of other table dishes and ornaments in keeping with this weighty plate. It would appear that Mrs. Coutts, after she became the Duchess of St. Albans, added to the store of the Coutts' silver ; among the fine pieces she purchased was a centre-piece which formed a wine cooler, massive and decorative, the cover being surmounted by a figure of Amphitrite seated on a shell, made by Rundell in 1824. Of course, there have been very many collections of a more modest character brought under the hammer, still bearing out, however, the idea of strength and solidarity, and showing that even in the lesser important pieces the silver of the early years of the nineteenth century was intended to last. Much of this heavy plate has disappeared, for there was as yet certainly no antiquarian value attached to it, and as time went on the Victorian house wife preferred less weighty plate and greater variety. So she very frequently sold for old silver the one-time family soup bowl and the large ladles and gravy spoons of silver, exchanging them for the more modern silver table forks and dessert spoons, and so the character of table plate has gradually changed ; its size has been reduced, but fortunately sterling silver is still hall-marked, and its quality has been well maintained.