WHAT HALLMARKS REVEAL

What began as an idle Sunday afternoon flip-through of a tattered volume of Concise Household Encyclopaedia edited by J.A. Hammerton (undated, although various online booksellers suggest it was published c. 1930) turned into a journey down an interesting rabbit-hole. You see, I randomly ended up on a page containing an entry about hallmarks on silverware.

I happen to have inherited a Georgian silver cream jug on a square pedestal in the shape known as a Helmet Jug, given that it is reminiscent of the helmets worn by the Life Guards. The jug once belonged to a relative of my father, Margaret Walker, and bears the initial ‘W’ engraved upon it. He was of the opinion that it had been presented to her on her silver wedding anniversary.

My father always reminded me to take care not to polish the hallmarks off or the piece would lose some of its value. With that in mind, I retrieved the jug to have a closer look at the hallmarks stamped on it – which led to visiting various sites on the internet … and this is part of what I discovered several hours later:

The first of these is the Maker’s Mark.

Although my father thought this might be the renowned William Abdy, this RE mark is clearly not his. I haven’t been able to identify who it represents, yet enjoyed seeing the variety of maker’s marks illustrated on the internet.

The next mark to consider is the Lion Passant which indicates not only that this jug was made in England, but that it is sterling silver of .925 purity.

The Crowned Leopard next to that indicates the London Assay Office. This particular mark was used from 1478 to 1822. The ‘m’ would – if I had a chart – identify the date when the silver was assayed.

This next image shows the leopard a little more clearly as a well as the last hallmark, which is the Duty Mark. From pictures seen online, I imagine this blob might represent King George III – placing the date of manufacture anywhere from 1786 to 1821. Based on photographs of very similar looking jugs, I am going to hazard the suggestion of 1795. I would be delighted to receive a more accurate interpretation.

Whatever these hallmarks really represent in terms of fine historical details, they collectively prove that this is an historical item which has been – and still is being – used for a very long time.

Now, if only it could talk!

THE DOLL HOUSE

In 1924 my grandfather made a dollhouse for his only daughter, my mother, for her fifth birthday. He used a wooden packing case to build a doll’s house with four rooms, each with a glass window, meticulously crafted wooden stairs, and a bathroom upstairs with a door on tiny hinges. To that was added a pitched roof. This was in Johannesburg.

Over time, the dollhouse was sent by rail to cousins in the Karoo where it resided until I was about five years old. My mother decided it was time for the doll house to ‘come home’, which it did from Aberdeen in the Karoo to the Sheba siding in the then Eastern Transvaal.

While I was at university, my parents moved to live at our farm permanently and the doll house moved to the De Kaap Valley and was played with by all the grandchildren who visited them there.

At last, I had a daughter. So, in due course, we loaded the doll house onto our truck and brought it down to the Eastern Cape. Here it was also well used by my grandchildren.

Then … my daughter had a daughter … and we loaded the doll house onto our truck and took it all the way to Cape Town …

… Not bad for a doll house made from a packing case 98 years ago!

A DISCOMBOBULATION

My father was fond of using the word ‘discombobulate’ when relating events that had happened during his working day: so-and-so was discombobulated by the change in the time of the shift, for example. Little did he know that the day would come when he would be disconcerted and confused by something he wasn’t even aware of happening at the time!

Let me give you some background to provide the context for his discombobulation. In our family home we had several framed watercolours painted by his aunt, May Taylor Morgan. My father, an orphan, came to southern Africa when he was seventeen years old and these paintings were sent on to him from England years after we had all been born. This is one of the two less colourful ones that I now have in my home. The caption was written by my father on the back of the frame:

Caernarvon: This shows Queen Eleanor’s Gate where the first Prince of Wales was shown to the public, The picture shows the old slate warehouses at low tide. This is a very true reproduction and was painted by May Taylor Morgan.

Also important to know is that my father was the Mine Captain and his stand-alone office was situated close to the mine shaft. The shift bosses would gather there before or after their underground shifts to give a verbal report or to discuss events that had taken place. On this particular Monday morning, the mine carpenter happened to be in my father’s office when the skip spewed out the miners. As was usual, it wasn’t long before my father’s office was filled with shift bosses, whose language usage would have proverbially turned the air blue.

The carpenter remained after the departure of the shift bosses and said quietly, “These men would not have used such dirty language had they known there was a lady present.”

My father looked around at the office with only the two of them present. “What lady?”

“She was standing behind your chair.” The carpenter went on to give a detailed description of the old woman who had stood there quietly. I can no longer recall the details, other than that she had very white hair. My father absorbed all of this and realised it could only have been his long-deceased Aunt May, who had lived in Caernarvon.

His discombobulation was still evident when he related this encounter over lunch. “It had to be Aunt May,” he explained. “She is the only person I know who looked like that!” Why would a woman who had died in Wales decades earlier appear in my father’s mine office in South Africa? Who can tell? The mine carpenter was not one to play jokes. “Besides,” my father insisted, “there is absolutely no way he could have known what she looked like and yet he described her to a T!”

Caernarvon: The old brick works by May Taylor Morgan.

My father noted in his unpublished memoir, A Brief History of the Currors that “she must have been rather shocked as she had picked a real ‘Blue Monday!’”

A VERY LARGE TEA CUP

Willow patterned items come in every shape and size you can think of; in different hues of blue; and with variations of the traditional pattern. There is a story behind my acquisition of this very large teacup that is displayed in my lounge.

A fellow student, who happened to hail from Rhodesia, gave me his cup – very similar to this one – to look after during one vacation. It obviously meant a lot to him and so I packed it carefully and took it home with me to the Eastern Transvaal. It proved to be a great hit with my parents and I served tea in it for my father – it holds the equivalent of four ordinary tea cups.

I fell in love with the cup and saucer and, once I had returned it to its rightful owner, set about looking for one of my own. During the early 1970s, Pietermaritzburg boasted several interesting second-hand shops tucked away in delightful winding lanes in the city centre. You can imagine my delight when, after much trawling, I found exactly what I was looking for!

The R5 I willingly paid for it in 1971 might sound laughable now, but it was a lot to me then – this is no wonder when the inflation conversion table I consulted tells me that it was the equivalent of R345 now! I would not fork out that amount now, yet this cup and saucer has given me great pleasure for over fifty years.

WILLOW PATTERN CROCKERY

I am feeling a little nostalgic today so found myself thinking about my long association with Willow Pattern china. My first encounter with the legend relating to the pattern must have come from a children’s encyclopaedia. I was enthralled both by the story and the attractiveness of the design and have always been determined to own something decorated with such a pattern.

First the story, which will be familiar to most of my readers: it basically involves a beautiful girl who was the promised bride of an old, yet wealthy, merchant. Her father was a Chinese Mandarin who lived with his family in a magnificent pagoda with a lovely fenced garden containing both a willow and an apple tree.  The daughter, Kwang-se, had the misfortune to fall in love with her father’s clerk. The young couple decided to elope across the sea to the cottage on the island. Naturally enough they were pursued and caught. As the father was about to have them both killed, the gods transformed them into a pair of turtle doves. Some versions have them escaping and living in harmony for some years before their home was torched and they were turned into doves. What does that matter? It is a romantic story that captured my very young heart.

At last, when I was already ‘too old’ to play with toy tea sets, I found a china tea set in our local toy shop in Barberton. It remained in its box for years until my parents moved to live on the farm permanently. My mother then set out my little tea set on her Welsh dresser – how lovely the pieces looked against that dark wood!

Some years later, she purchased a willow pattern dinner service which was railed down to her from Johannesburg. She too had a great fondness for the willow pattern and was pleased that I could share her joy.

We were camping in the Tsitsikamma area many years ago when we had to go to the supermarket in George to purchase supplies. My eye was caught by a willow patterned dinner service displayed on a shelf. Camping or not, I simply had to have it! Fortunately each set of four servings was packed in a sturdy square plastic container – the two of which remained packed in the back of our truck until the end of our camping trip.

Since the death of my mother, the remains of her set has mingled with mine. I use the pieces only for special occasions, such on those now all too rare times when some of our extended family can sit around the dining room table.

My mother’s set is a darker blue than mine, which reminds me that although all willow patterns may look alike, small details may differ according to the various manufacturers in terms of the colour, the number of apples, the figures on the bridge and the design of the crooked fence. Ours seem to differ only in colour.

https://nationalmuseumpublications.co.za/the-willow-pattern/