Six Rat-tail Tablespoons of Distinction

Roman spoons have been found with rat-tails on the back of the bowl and a rudimentary one can be seen as part of the structure of many spoons from that period onwards.  However an engraved rat-tail on the back of the bowl of spoons is first found in England in the early 1650s. From the restoration of Charles II in 1660 a three dimensional rat-tail emerged which became increasingly prominent on Dognose and the earliest Hanoverian spoons, often described as rat-tails (for further information and images see Silver Spoons of Great Britain by David Constable due for publication later this summer ).

We have acquired a set of six rat-tail tablespoons made in London in 1718 by Philip Robinson.  They are of unusually good gauge, weighing 14 Troy Ounces between them, and colour.  Indeed they seem to be almost unused. 

6 rattail spoons
Six rattail tablespoons by Philip Robinson, London 1718

In addition to this they are engraved with the crest of the Bridgeman family beneath a Baron's coronet.  On 8th April 1719 (during the 1718 assay year for London which lasted until 30th May 1719) Orlando Bridgeman (1695-1764) married Lady Anne Newport (d.1752).  This couple were wealthy and of very high status as Orlando was the heir to the Bridgeman family baronetcy, a title he inherited in 1747, and Lady Anne was the daughter of the second Earl of Bradford.   

Engraved crest and coronet      Maker's mark
Crest of Bridgeman + Baron's coronet        Mark of Philip Robinson         

It was due to this marriage that the Bridgeman family inherited the estates of the Earls of Bradford in 1762 but not the title (as this had died out with Lady Anne's brother).  However in 1794 Orlando and Lady Anne's son Henry (1725-1800) was created Baron Bradford- at this time the Baron's coronet was added to these spoons.  These spoons can therefore be seen to have been made for the marriage of Orlando Bridgeman and Lady Anne and inherited by their son.

Henry, 1st Baron Bradford's son, another Orlando, was created Earl of Bradford in 1815 and the family still retain the title (although they ceded their main seat Weston Park in Shropshire to the nation in 1986).  Although important pieces of the family's silver is still on display at Weston Park, along with a significant art collection, no other pieces of silver linked to these spoons is known to have survived in the family.

 The man whose mark these spoons carry is Philip Robinson, a Goldsmith by whom very little work is apparent (other than these six spoons I could find references to only four other spoons ).  Robinson was apprenticed to prominent spoon maker Thomas Sadler in 1702 through the Goldsmiths' Company and claimed his freedom of that Company in 1714.  He traded from Fleet Street, one reference specifying 'Golden Ball, corner of Salisbury Court, Fleet Street' .  He was promoted within the Goldsmiths' Company being given the Livery in 1721 and elected to the Court of Assistants in 1732 (although he never served as a Warden of the Company).  In addition to this he stood as a Common Councilman for St. Bride's in the City of London in 1732 to at least 1736 .  Research by Judy Jowett reveals that he also paid a £14 fine, a substantial sum, to be exempted from Parish offices in 1732.

The comparative absence of spoons, or any other work, carrying his mark in conjunction with this remarkably successful civic career suggests that Robinson is likely to have been involved in a branch of the Goldsmiths trade that did not require him to assay items.  This is likely to be one related to finance- banking, like the Willaume family, or pawnbroking.  For Robinson this second option is more likely as an insurance policy taken out in 1735 specifically exempts 'goods and pledges, plate and jewells excepted in North dwelling house of Arthur Sadler [his son-in-law and former apprentice], pawnbroker, at the roses in the passages in the west side of St. Brides church yard Fleet Street' .  Given this information his address of 'Golden Ball' is likely to relate to the three golden balls of the pawnbroker's sign.

Philip Robinson died in 1743 and close examination of his will revealed that he left his second wife Grace as the executor of sizeable estates in Essex but if she chose not to act then he mentions 'the agreement entered into on our marriage as to a sum of one thousand and five hundred pounds therein mentioned and of the bond then by me given for allowing to her forty pounds a year for her life in case she should survive me or any other agreements entered into by me aforesaid'.  The fact that £1500 is equivalent to roughly £128,000 in 2005 only confirms the wealth of Philip Robinson.  Research into Robinson and his family is ongoing and I hope to be able to report further results soon.

Luke Schrager

    One pair were sold by Christie's in New York in October 2013 and carried the arms of the Woolmen's Company, a second pair from Staple's Inn have appeared in the trade in 2015 and a single spoon was sold by Keys Auctioneers in 2012.  A pair of wine coolers, belonging to the Marquess of Bristol, were attributed to Robinson in the Seaford House but these have subsequently been re-attributed to Philip Rollos.


             Daily Post (London, England), Thursday, January 25, 1733; Issue 4169.

    Jowett, J.: The Warning Carriers: The Silver Society:2005: p. 120.

    Sun Insurance Record at Goldsmiths Company.



(1) Public Record Office, Kew: PROB11/1568

(2) Goldsmiths’ Hall, London: Goldsmiths’ Company Apprenticeship Book xxx: Folio xxx.

(3) International Genealogy Index.

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