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Release: The Benson Collection of Early Spoons - King Street, 4 June 2013


Christie’s is honoured to announce the sale of the renowned Benson Collection of Early Spoons on the 4 June 2013. Collected over many years by the highly respected expert, dealer and advisor Mrs. G.E.P How (née Benson).

Christie’s is honoured to announce the sale of the renowned Benson Collection of Early Spoons on the 4 June 2013. Collected over many years by the highly respected expert, dealer and advisor Mrs. G.E.P How (née Benson), the sale represents an incomparable group of spoons from the 14th and 15th centuries. This exceptional collection, which was previously exhibited as a stand-alone display at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, presents the market with the greatest array of early spoons to be offered at auction for many decades. Leading the auction is the Benson Wodewose spoon – a Henry VI spoon, one of only four known to survive, with a Wodewose or wild man depicted on the finial at the end of the spoon. The wodewose a mythical figure that appeared from the 12th century in the artwork and literature of medieval times and was a wild satyr like figure often later compared to a green man or wild man of the woods. The spoon is estimated at £40,000-60,000, illustrated above and below). The sale provides a unique opportunity for connoisseurs and new collectors around the world to acquire rare historical spoons with an impeccable pedigree. Estimates range from £700 to £250,000 and the collection is expected to realise in excess of £500,000.

Harry Williams-Bulkeley, Senior Director & European Head of Silver Department, at Christie’s, London: Early spoons have been prized by collectors since the mid-19th century. The Benson Collection represents the Holy Grail for spoon collectors. These rarest of spoons have survived from some of the most turbulent eras of British history and were gathered over many decades by one most highly regarded advisor, dealer and collector of the 20th century, Mrs. How. Spoons such as these not only inspired the most dedicated of collectors in the 19th and 20th centuries but also enabled the earliest studies of hallmarks and the history of spoons. Until their recent display at the Ashmolean Museum and the publication of David Constable’s detailed work, The Benyon Collection of Early Spoons, this fabled collection had only been seen by a handful of the most dedicated collectors.

The Life of Mrs. How (b. 1915 – 2004)

Born in 1915, Jane Penrice Benson had the early ambition to be an archaeologist, this later evolved into an interest in silver. Having helped a family friend catalogue his early spoon collection she assisted the recognised silver expert and dealer Commander How in preparing the sale catalogue of the Ellis Collection which was sold in 1935. The firm How of Edinburgh was founded by the Commander in 1931. Miss Benson joined the firm and she and the Commander were married in 1946. The Hows firmly established their impressive reputation as leading experts on early silver and English spoons; they published the first volume of their monumental work English and Scottish silver spoons, medieval to late Stuart and pre-Elizabethan hall-marks on English plate in 1952. Following the Commander’s death in the mid-1950s Mrs. How continued to expand the business, setting herself apart with her academic approach to the subject and with the organisation of a magnificent exhibition of English silver held at the Royal Ontario Museum in 1958. She was a long-standing member of the Antique Plate Committee at Goldsmiths Hall and became one of the most influential dealers of her time. Over her long career Mrs. How dealt with some of the greatest pieces of English silver, discretely advising many of the top collectors of her time, whilst forming her own world class collection of early spoons. Her lengthy obituary in the Times also noted that she was a prize breeder of the massive English mastiffs with which she won best of breed at Crufts twice, she was a strong willed personality, generous with her knowledge to those she liked and dismissive of people who locked away their collections. She entertained her clients with champagne, caviar and smoked salmon in her rooms in St. James’s from where she could be seen driving a succession of powerful cars - lastly a Bentley Turbo which she acquired in her eighth decade.

The most valuable lot on offer is a set of six Edward IV parcel-gilt silver Apostle Spoons from the 15th century, which is amongst the earliest known Apostle Spoons (estimate: £150,000-250,000, illustrated above). The present set includes a spoon which features a large gilt finial cast as St. Paul. During the 15th century sets of Apostle Spoons were acquired only by the wealthiest families who could commission such a magnificent set.

Another highlight is one of the earliest known surviving Acorn-Knop spoon, circa 12th/13th century, which is believed to be the only spoon of this type mounted on a pediment (estimate: £8,000-12,000, illustrated right). This spoon pre-dates the system of hallmarking which was established by Royal Statute in the reign Edward III in 1300. The Acorn-Knop is a traditional symbol of immortality which was also regarded as a lucky charm, making it a very popular design during this period. Further early examples include a Diamond-Point spoon from the reign of Edward III, circa 1350, (estimate: £30,000-50,000, illustrated left), which is struck with one of the earliest known representations of the leopard’s head, the first English hallmark.

About Christie’s
Christie’s, the world’s leading art business, had global auction and private sales in 2011 that totaled £3.6 billion/$5.7 billion. Christie’s is a name and place that speaks of extraordinary art, unparalleled service and expertise, as well as international glamour. Founded in 1766 by James Christie, Christie’s has since conducted the greatest and most celebrated auctions through the centuries providing a popular showcase for the unique and the beautiful. Christie’s offers over 450 auctions annually in over 80 categories, including all areas of fine and decorative arts, jewellery, photographs, collectibles, wine, and more. Prices range from $200 to over $100 million. Christie’s also has a long and successful history conducting private sales for its clients in all categories, with emphasis on Post-War and Contemporary, Impressionist and Modern, Old Masters and Jewellery. Private sales totaled £502 million / $808.6m in 2011, an increase of 44% on the previous year.

Christie’s has a global presence with 53 offices in 32 countries and 10 salerooms around the world including in London, New York, Paris, Geneva, Milan, Amsterdam, Dubai, Zürich, and Hong Kong. More recently, Christie’s has led the market with expanded initiatives in growth markets such as Russia, China, India and the United Arab Emirates, with successful sales and exhibitions in Beijing, Mumbai and Dubai.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium. Sales totals are hammer price plus buyer’s premium and do not reflect costs, financing fees or application of buyer’s or seller’s credits.

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