Atkin Brothers Ltd
Date Made/Found: around 1902
, British, 1863 - 1944
Material and Medium: EPNS, silver, plated steel, gilt, mother of pearl, wood, leather, textile
Dimensions: Size when on display: 230 x 360 x 360mm (9 1/16 x 14 3/16 x 14 3/16in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: Virtual2007.175-183
This group of objects form a dessert service. In contemporary catalogues, they are often called combination cases. The set comprises a large fruit spoon, a pair of grape scissors, a pair of nutcracks, a sugar sifter, two nutpicks and a pair of fruit carvers. They are housed in a velvet lined case.
A 1905 catalogue of the firm Atkin Brothers illustrates a number of similar combination cases. A number of these also contain a full set of twelve pairs of dessert knives and forks. The most expensive set had mother of pearl handles and was stored in a case made from walnut. This was priced at 300 shillings, a considerable sum.
A similar set to this object, made in EPNS with a velvet lined case, retailed at 40 shillings. Although the dessert set in the Designated metalwork collection is not as elaborate as some examples, it nevertheless illustrates that the practice of using ornate items specifically made for dessert was important in many homes during the early 1900s.
Dessert in the 1800s could be a lavish affair in wealthy homes. Dessert tables were decorated to an almost comical degree. They were stacked high with floral displays and elaborate mirrored centrepieces ran down the centre of the table. Multi-tiered, ornate stands known as épergnes stood in the centre of the table to display fruit and flowers. Candelabra with several branches provided light.
By the end of the 1800s, table presentation became simplified as fashions changed. However, it was crucial for the host to provide a table with all necessary accoutrements. These included an array of serving dishes, cutlery and flatware, folded napkins and simple decorations of flowers and fruit.
The only objects in this set that have maker's marks are the fruit carvers. The fork's silver ferrule is marked 'E K' or 'E E' and was hallmarked in Sheffield in 1902. Neither of these marks is registered at Sheffield Assay Office, so we cannot identify the maker. The silver end cap is marked 'G H' and was also hallmarked in 1902. It was made by Harrison Brothers & Howson, who registered their silver mark on the 23rd April 1896. The carving knife has a maker's mark, 'A B & S'. This might refer to the Sheffield firm Atkin Brothers, who used a similar mark for electroplate from 1853 onwards, 'A B * S'.
Several of the objects have marks indicating that they are made from electroplate. The fruit carvers and spoon are marked 'E P N S A' in five separate punches. The sugar sifter is marked 'E P N S' in four punches. The bowls of the fruit spoon and sugar sifter are gilt.
The grape scissors, nutpicks and nutcracks are made from silver plated steel and are unmarked.
These objects are part of the George Ellis Collection.
Information on the silversmiths' marks courtesy of Sheffield Assay Office.
Find out more…
Read about the rituals of dining and entertaining in the late 1800s and early 1900s:
Spours, J. 2006 'Cakes and Ale. The Golden Age of British Feasting'. Richmond: The National Archives.