Q. I am from Baltimore, Md., and have many pieces of silver from my mother and grandmother. They are mostly from Kirk, but some are from Steiff. I have attached a picture of a Steiff fruit serving spoon. Some of my pieces are just marked "Sterling" and a number. What do the numbers mean?
A. Samuel Kirk was born in Doylestown, Penn., in 1793 to a family that had a rich heritage in the silversmithing trade. Kirk was descended from English silversmiths on both sides of his family. Joan Kirke registered her mark with the Goldsmith's Hall in 1696/97, and on the other side of the family, there was Sir Francis Child, who ended his silversmith apprenticeship in 1665. He eventually became Lord Mayor of London in 1669, and diversified his silversmithing business when he founded the Child Banking House (now trading as Child & Co.).
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Samuel Kirk began his apprenticeship circa 1810 with Philadelphia silversmith James Howell. After the period of apprenticeship was over in 1815, Kirk moved to Baltimore and entered into a partnership with John Smith to form Kirk and Smith, which lasted about five years.
The history of this firm is too long to recount in this space, but in 1846, Samuel's son, Henry Child Kirk, became a partner in his father's company. The firm then became known as S. Kirk and Son. On occasion the name became S. Kirk and Sons, but in 1979 the firm was bought out by another Baltimore silversmithing concern -- The Steiff Company -- and became The Kirk Steiff Company.
Compared to Samuel Kirk, the Steiff Company was sort of a "Johnny come lately" in the Baltimore silver business. They were founded in 1892 as the Baltimore Silver Company by Charles C. Steiff, and the name did not change to "The Steiff Company" until 1904.
Steiff was and is known for a variety of activities: their reproductions for such places as Williamsburg and Newport (Rhode Island), their pewter (first made in 1953), and a sterling silver pattern called "Baltimore Rose."
The beautiful fruit or berry spoon belonging to J. B. appears to be in the "Steiff Rose" pattern, which was first made in 1892. According to the information we could find, this pattern came in two varieties; the one in today's question has raised flowers up and down the handle, but the other has a shield shaped blank space in the middle of the decoration, probably for a monogram.
"Steiff Rose," "Baltimore Rose," and "Kirk Repousse" are all decorated in the Repousse manner, which means their raised designs are hammered from the inside or underside. Usually these patterns are enhanced by adding a little hand chasing to the details of the decoration to give depth and sharpness. The Repousse process was introduced to the United States by Samuel Kirk in 1828.
The value of the Steiff Rose berry spoon in today's question depends on its size. The small ones, which are approximately 8 inches long, retail in the $115 to $125 range. The larger 9 1/4 inches long version retails for considerably more in the $275 to $325 range. The numbers that sometimes follow the word "Sterling" on pieces of silver are usually pattern numbers and mean more to the manufacturer than they do to the owner.
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