North Devon in 100 Objects: 25. Barnstaple’s Silver Spoons

5 silver spoons.

The first Barnstaple-made silver spoons appeared in the 16th Century. At that time Barnstaple was a market town, wool centre and port, whose merchants were sending ships to Europe and the New World.  For example, Richard Dodderidge owned a 100-ton prize-ship named Prudence, a privateer effectively engaged in licenced piracy. She had 80 men on board in 1590, and landed a record prize taken off the      Guinea Coast, probably from Spanish galleons from South America, consisting of four chests of gold worth £16,000 with additional chains of gold and civet-fur.

It is remarkable that this remote town should have produced silver smiths capable of making spoons of an unrivalled quality and individuality. Two names came to the fore: Thomas Mathew working from 1560-1611 and the Quick family from the late 16th century which included John Quick who was regarded as the finest.  At that time, silver items would be purchased both to show the wealth of the family and as an investment.   Young women hoping to marry would often have silver spoons as part of their dowry.

We are lucky to have a good collection of Barnstaple silver spoons, including 16th century seal top, apostle and “Aphrodite” spoons as well as much plainer 17th century “Puritan spoons” which reflect the changing tastes around the time of the Civil War.  The collection was assembled by our benefactor Keith Abraham (1928-2020) and the Museum Development Trust.

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