Antique Novelty Silver - How It Started & Why It's Still So Popular Today

Discussion Favourite Finds


'Ello, 'ello, 'ello, welcome to this week's instalment of 'Blog Post Monday'.

Now, my love for antiques became an obsession when I started finding quirky, novelty pieces and curios.  In particular, I became fascinated with novelty silver pieces.  The workmanship and the fun, comical element that a lot of these unusual pieces had, well, who wouldn't fall in love with them...?!

With this in mind, I've decided to dedicate this week's post to these fun pieces.  We'll be looking at how these novelties came about, how their popularity continues to grow and I'll be showing you some of the unusual pieces I've been lucky to find during my time as a dealer and collector.

So, as always, get that kettle on, get your little bits out and I'll show you mine, if you show me yours...



Well, we all enjoy a good novelty object, don't we?  They put a smile on our faces, they're conversation starters, they're unique and admired for the incredible workmanship that goes into each piece.  While some novelty items are designed with no practical purpose, the most impressive of all are those that are both novelty and practical.  Everyday items that are transformed into novelty objects.

In the 19th century, there were more and more newly rich middle classes and because of this, talented silversmiths of the time decided they'd capitalise on it.  And, how did they go about this?  Yes, you guessed it, they began creating an abundance of novelty pieces to tempt and amuse.  These were functional items, such as salt cellars, propelling pencils, vesta cases, vinaigrettes, scent bottles, etc... and they were disguised as anything from animals and shoes, to figures and boats, to name just a few.  Basically, it was a case of, the more outlandish, the better!  Demand for these novelty pieces lasted well into the 20th century, where collectors had amassed large numbers of these whimsical objects.

Fast forward to the 21st century and demand for these pieces, particularly silver pieces, is stronger than ever!  Some of these cheeky pieces can demand quite the price.  I always feel like I've won the lottery when I find a piece at an affordable price and I tend to enjoy them for a time and then let them move on to their next home.  The workmanship of these pieces never fails to amaze me and I feel that it's pieces like these that attract a new audience to buy them.  An audience that perhaps has never given antiques a second thought, and this is my ultimate aim with my business.  I want to encourage more people to shop antique for those meaningful gifts for their loved ones.  I mean, what is more unique than an antique gift?

I've had a few lucky finds over the years and whilst I was custodian of these pieces for just a short time, I've enjoyed every single one of them and I'll always remember them.  Here are a few of them...



This miniature sterling silver folding fish button hook was a recent find, actually.  It has fabulous engraved detailing to it, marvellous functionality and is fully hallmarked, Sheffield 1901.



Button hooks, like the one pictured above, were used as tools to do up those difficult buttons, whether that was on clothing, shoes or gloves.  In the Victorian era clothing, including shoes, were worn tighter than clothes today and as close to the body as possible, with many buttons and laces to hold them in place.  So these were very practical tools and turning them into novelty pieces made them fun and stylish accessories to carry around.



This miniature sterling silver vinaigrette in the form of a bag has been one of my favourite novelty finds.  Vinaigrettes, popular from the late 18th century through the mid-19th century, were small containers used for holding various aromatic substances, usually dissolved in vinegar.  A tiny piece of sponge, soaked in the liquid, was contained beneath a grill or perforated cover.  These were worn by ladies to mask unpleasant odours in their environments.




This example was fully hallmarked Birmingham 1818 and made by John Lawrence.  So, not only one of my favourites, but also one of my earliest novelty silver finds.  It had fabulous detailing to bring out the features of the bag and it opened to reveal the most beautiful floral work.  A wonderful piece and one that I feel very lucky to have owned.



Bookmarks were another example of pieces that could be novelty, but very practical.  This example was one that I found around two years ago and I kind of regret selling.  The workmanship is fabulous and the wording adds a kind of romanticism.  It was fully hallmarked Birmingham 1922 and is a fine example of the unique gifts you could get for a loved one if only you chose to shop antique, instead of new.



Other examples of novelty silver pieces were tableware.  Salt cellars and caviar dishes, like the ones pictured above, were very practical items and when turned into novelty pieces, became a super table decoration and conversation starter.  This set of dishes was fabulous in its miniature form and shell design, and was fully hallmarked Birmingham 1899.



Another popular novelty piece was the stamp case.  These often came in the form of an envelope and you could get single or double cases.  The example, pictured above, was a single and I've had a few of them, some more decorative and over the top, than others.  This particular example was quite simple in its form, but very charming nonetheless, and was fully hallmarked Birmingham 1918.  Again, wouldn't this make a lovely gift for someone who enjoyed writing letters..?



Other popular novelty pieces are miniature doll's house items.  Some people must have had some real money back then to be furnishing doll's houses with fine silver!  I've had a few pieces in my time, including this candlestick, fully hallmarked London 1897.



Well, that's it for this week folks!  I hope you've enjoyed this little insight into the world of novelties and, for those of you who are yet to embrace the antiques scene, I hope this makes you look at it in a different light.  Don't buy new, buy antique and you'll be amazed at the unusual, fun and unique gifts you can find.

Let me know what you think in the comments section below, particularly if you've ever been custodian of any unusual novelty silver items yourself.

Remember, if you enjoy my posts, please show your support by subscribing to my 'Source Social' membership, which you can do via the 'Home' page.  It's free and gives you a weekly blog post and a fortnightly YouTube video delivered directly to your inbox, as well as exclusive discounts and first dibs on new items before they are added to our website.

And, speaking of my YouTube channel, if you're into antiques and haven't seen any of my videos yet, you can find them HERE.  Head on over and subscribe to that too for your dose of finds, fairs, stories and reviews.

So, until next week, stay safe, keep buying those antiques and keep spreading that Source Vintage love!




Owner Source Vintage

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