Sterling Silver fruit set, Mathew Boulton, Birmingham 1784
Rare setting of four Stirling Silver fruit knives & forks with spiral-carved mother-of-pearl handles.
Hallmarked for Birmingham, 1784/5
Maker – Mathew Boulton
This rare early fruit set is by Mathew Boulton, and is the ancestor of the more usually seen Victorian fruit sets.
Mathew Boulton was an important part of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, responsible for numerous innovations and industrial processes, all powered by his steam engines made in partnership with Watts. He also pioneered the stamping process for modern coinage, and the 1797 ‘Cartwheel Penny’ was his creation, the ancestor of all modern coinage.
His father had been making small silver ‘toys’, items such as sewing accessories, which did not need to be assayed or hallmarked due to their small size. However, Boulton’s ambitions were to make larger, quality Sterling items, and as the closest assay office was Chester, he petitioned Parliament to open a new office for the purpose in Birmingham. He wrote in 1771: “I am very desirous of becoming a great silversmith, yet I am determined not to take up that branch in the large way I intended, unless powers can be obtained to have a marking hall [assay office] at Birmingham.”
This petition was successful, despite the London silversmith’s protests, and in 1773 the Birmingham assay office opened, with an anchor as their mark.
The knives are hallmarked for 1784, while the forks are 1785; this suggests a Christmastime date for the set’s creation!