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  Investigation Profile # 3. :

Maker's Mark of Joseph Richardson Jr. Philadelphia, Circa 1795


This nutmeg grater (Fig A) was attributed to the Philadelphia maker, JOSEPH RICHARDSON, JR and comes from The Collection of Roy And Ruth Nutt; Highly Important American Silver auctioned by Sotheby's NYC, early in 2015.  The silver nutmeg grater's form is generally described as a canted cornered rectangular box nutmeg grater with double lids.  It is typical in design with many other well documented British and international examples. 

Contained inside is a rectangular mark with rounded corners; its maker's mark is styled using Roman font capital letters. In hopes to authenticate (or refute) its attribution to Joseph Richardson Jr., this antique researcher used (on site ~ 2015) a method of visual comparison, where this mark was contrasted against authenticated J. Richardson Jr. maker's marks.

Purchase ~ Background Information:

(A) January 2015 ~ As a world class collection of utmost quality in American silver, the Nutt Collection auction was widely publicized throughout the antique press. This nutmeg grater appeared in Sotheby's printed catalog as well as their on-line catalog. 

Prior to the Sotheby's NYC auction of January 24, 2015, this canted cornered rectangular box nutmeg grater with double lids was on preview display to the public. The catalog described "Lot 508 ~ AN AMERICAN SILVER NUTMEG GRATER, JOSEPH RICHARDSON, JR., CIRCA 1795 ~ rectangular with cut corners. Marked JR in a rectangle: engraved RMA in script on underside of lid: on top of lid. ~ PROVENANCE: Jackson/Gillooly, January 1984 ~ $2,000-$3,000."

During their auction preview of January 20 2015, this antique researcher examined the nutmeg grater, paying extensive attention to details of the maker's mark.  A visual comparison between its maker's mark, contrasted against the characteristics seen with confirmed examples of the maker's marks for Joseph Richardson Jr., drew a Richardson attribution into question. [The confirmed Joseph Richardson Jr. marks (circa 1790-1810) used by the examiner were acquired from multiple sources:  including ~ 1). Winterthur's Decorative Arts Photographic Collection (DAPC) a collection containing abundant materials pertaining to all of the Richardson family "marks"; 2). Martha Gandy Fales text Joseph Richardson and Family Philadelphia Silversmiths, and 3). other sources.] 

Following examination, the Sotheby's silver consultants were alerted to the discrepancies concerning the attribution of the maker's mark to that of Joseph Richardson. Jr. Although the mark in question is similarly styled by use of Roman font capital lettering in the manner of the Richardson impressions, specific characteristics of each serif terminal and its letter proportionment clearly did not match any of the confirmed Richardson maker's marks.  

Pre and Post Ads by Stair GalleriesAs a result of careful investigation and based on evidence, Sotheby's experts determined that the maker's mark for this nutmeg grater was not that of Joseph Richardson Jr. of Philadelphia.  They discerned that the nutmeg grater in question was of English origin. Sotheby's removed "Lot 508" from their 2015 sale. 

(B). October 2016 ~ This same nutmeg grater reappeared for auction, now by Stair Galleries, Hudson, NY 12534. Stair widely publicized the sale of the nutmeg grater through several antique sales venues for their "Fine English, Continental & American Auction by Stair Galleries" describing it as "Lot 743: AMERICAN SILVER NUTMEG GRATER.  Impressed 'I.R.' on the inside lid, for Joseph Richardson, circa 1795; of chamfered rectangular outline with script monogram, metal grater. 1 in. by 2 ¹⁄₈ in. Provenance: Jackson/Gilloly, January 1984. Ruth and Roy Nutt Collection." (Fig B1a & B1b).

NutmegGraters.Com notified Stair's auction house and its on-line venues prior to the sale date on October 30, 2016 and alerted them to the discrepancies and concerns surrounding a Joseph Richardson Jr. attribution.  As a result, Stair Galleries amended their auction listing, by re-describing the nutmeg grater, where possible, as: "Lot 742 SILVER NUTMEG GRATER, Estimate $300 - $500, Description: SILVER NUTMEG GRATER Impressed "I.R." on inside of lid; chamfered rectangular outline with script monogram, metal grater. 1 in. by 2 ¹⁄₈ in. Provenance: Jackson/Gilloly, January 1984. Ruth and Roy Nutt Collection." (Fig B2).

An Investigative Portfolio:

(I). Form, Style and Construction:

The form of this silver nutmeg grater is generally known as a canted cornered rectangular box nutmeg grater with double lids.  The Klopfer Image File is a collection of several thousand detailed photo images of nutmeg graters: [sources include but are not limited to ~ books and auction catalogs, on-line sales or auction archival resources, private and public collections.]   Among these files, 92 examples of canted cornered rectangular box nutmeg grater with double lids are documented. The vast majority originate from Great Britain (most are from London or Birmingham; but a small number of Irish and Scottish examples are also documented); all of these bear date marks evenly distributed between 1789 to 1828 ~ with a London example reintroduced in Circa 1840 and another in Circa 1890.  About 2 percent of this form nutmeg grater bear only a maker's marks (presumably of British origin, made prior to 1889).  Rarer examples from the United States and possibly, China are also documented as being from this period. 

By the 1780's, silversmiths purchased pre-rolled sheet silver from silver refiners, no longer melting their own silver stock. This new technology impacted the construction methods and silversmiths created nutmeg grater forms, such as the canted cornered box, that were readily made using pre-flattened silver sheets.  These nutmeg graters were embellished using bright-cut, machine cut, ribbed-patterning, or engraved designs, yet some were left "plainish" in style.  

(II). Review of the Literature and A Comparison Among Maker's Marks:

Prior to the 1790's, most silversmiths continued the practice utilizing the letter symbol "I" rather than the "J" style letter when creating their maker's mark. Historically, the letter "J" was the last alphabet symbol to evolve, and that the differently shaped letter symbols "I" and "J" had interchangeably represented a singular letter concept.  Some claim that French names, such as "Jacques", developed as a new and distinctive sound, and that later, this sound with its "J" letter symbol was adopted throughout Europe. In 1633, Charles Butler's book, English Grammar, was the first publication to definitively distinguish difference between the two letter symbols ~ "I" and "J".  Following this, it required more than one hundred and fifty years before silversmiths in Britain and the American Colonies adapted to the more modern symbol "J".  Today, the letter "J" remains one of the least commonly used letters in the English language. It most commonly appears as an initial letter in people's first or last names.   

This custom slowly began to change near the turn of the eighteenth into the nineteenth century when the more modern "J" predominated their trade. Still, silversmiths using the rectangular maker's mark "J•R" are uncommon, (as seen in the table, below):

SILVERSMITH MAKER'S MARK PLACED WORKING DATE WORKING/REGISTERED SOURCE
  John Rowe              I•R     (London)   largeworker ~ Mark entered 6/2/1749   [Jackson 1964, Grimwald 1990]
  John Robertson              I•R     (Newcastle)   {unestablished date between 1750 to 1880}   [Jackson, 1964]
John Robertson              J•R     (Newcastle)   1798-9 from Cake basket.   [Jackson, 1964]
  John Robertson              I•R     (Edinburgh)   1758 from Salver.   [Jackson, 1964]
  John Robertson              J•R     (London)   (mark entered 1826) [jeweller of rings]   [Grimwald,1990]
  James Ross              J•R     (Glasgow)   {unestablished date between 1848 to 1903}   [Jackson, 1964]
  J. Read              I•R     (Dublin)   1828-9 from snuff box.   [Jackson, 1964]
John Rigby             J•R     (Dublin)   1797 from salt-spoon.   [Jackson, 1964]
  John Raymond              I•R     (London)   smallworker ~ Mark entered 8/19/1762   [Grimwald, 1990]
  James Rudkins              I•R     (London)   smallworker ~ Mark entered 7/26/1763   [Grimwald, 1990]
  John Rowbotham              I•R     (London)   smallworker ~ Mark entered 12/14/1768   [Grimwald, 1990]
  John Robert              I•R     (London)   smallworker ~ Mark entered 4/28/1795   [Grimwald, 1990]
  John Rotton              I•R     (London)   smallworker ~ Mark entered 3/16/1797   [Grimwald, 1990]
  John Ross              I•R     (Baltimore)   1756-1798   [Beldon, 1980]
  James Roe              I•R     (Kingston, NY)   Ca. 1770   [Beldon, 1980]
Joseph Richardson Jr.             J•R     (Philadelphia)   1790-1831   [Fales, 1974]
Works Consulted:      London Goldsmiths 1697-1837 Their Marks & Lives [ Grimwade, 1990];   The Silversmiths of Birmingham and their Marks: 1750~1980 [Jones, 1981];  
           English Goldsmiths And Their Marks... [Jackson, 1964];   Joseph Richardson And Family, Philadelphia Silversmiths [Fales, 1974];   International Hallmarks on Silver
           [Tardy, 2000];    Goud-Ed Zilvermerken [Voet 1992];   Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers [Rainwater, 1986];   Marks of American Silversmiths in the
           Ineson-Bissell Collection [Beldon 1980];   American Silver 1700-1850 [Spencer, 2001];   Maryland Silver in the Collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art
           [Goldsborough, 1975];   Silver In Maryland [Goldsborough, 1984];    Manufacturers' Marks on American Coin Silver  [McGrew, 2004].    

From a review of the literature, this study identified five silversmiths utilizing a "J•R" maker's mark [lettering separated by a pellet mark] within a rectangular indent.  Only three of these fall within the time period of fabrication for the nutmeg grater in question. 

(1). Little is reported of John Robertson I of Newcastle, England. His business was located on Dean Street, where he was active from 1795 until death in 1801.  His maker's mark "J•R" was registered in Newcastle in 1798. He was in a brief partnership with David Darling. Items identified as his products are "Coffee pots, flatware, mugs, tongs, & trays". [Source: http://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Makers/Newcastle.html ]

During the time period of Robertson's work, English statutes required, under strictly enforce law, that nutmeg graters bear a full set of English hallmarks.  This makes doubtful that the nutmeg grater under study was his product. 

(2). This study found no information pertaining to John Rigby, a silversmith, from Dublin, Circa 1797.  More research is required. 

(3). Illustrated in (Fig C1) is an authenticated "J•R" maker's mark for Joseph Richardson Jr. who was a notable American silversmith. His work is very well studied and he produced a silver tear-drop form pocket nutmeg grater of which several examples are known. His earlier examples were made in conjunction with his brother Nathan Richardson and are marked "INR". His later examples, made after the brothers separated their partnership, were marked "J•R".  Although he had other "JR" maker's marks, the others are absent of the "pellet" mark and none of these other maker's marks are know on any of his authenticated nutmeg graters.  

(III). Direct Visual Comparison of the "Maker's Mark" against authenticated photographic images: 

Authenticated VS spurious maker's mark for Joseph Richardson Jr. of Philadelphia
Confirmed and verified examples of the Joseph Richardson Jr., maker's marks Circa 1790-1810 were acquired from several sources [including Winterthur's Decorative Arts Photographic Collection (DAPC), a collection containing abundant materials pertaining to all of the Richardson Visual differences seen with mark in questionfamily "marks"; Joseph Richardson and Family Philadelphia Silversmiths by Martha Gandy Fales, and other published sources].  Direct visual comparison is useful when contrasting an authenticated "J•R" maker's mark (Fig C1) against the "J•R" maker's mark (Fig C2) found on the nutmeg grater under investigation in Profile #3 (Fig A).

Upon comparison between the two maker's marks, significant variants are apparent, confirming that the marks were made using different dies.  Several prominent differences are noted:
      ~ (Fig C2~a) highlights that the "pellet" from the maker's mark in question is disproportionately much larger than the "pellet" seen with the authenticated maker's mark (Fig C1) [noted within the orange circle], and
       ~ (Fig C2~b) delineates two distinctive dissimilarities found with the letter "J" [encircled within the yellow oval].  Observing firstly the maker's mark in question, the rounded terminal swash found at the foot of letter "J" is significantly larger when compared against an authenticated maker's mark (Fig C1).  Secondly and more problematic, both maker's mark display the presence of a die flaw on the outside edge at the bend on each "J".  The fact that these die flaws are identically located yet are dissimilar, raises an indication that this may be a forgers attempted to imitate a well known die flaw as seen with an original and validated "J•R" maker's mark.   


Many additional discrepancies exist between these two maker's marks, as can be observed by viewers.  The maker's mark in question is not that of any confirmed mark by Joseph Richardson Jr., nor was NutmegGraters.Com currently able to authenticate the maker's mark under study to another silversmith.   Using Direct Visual Comparison, the mark on the nutmeg grater from the Nutt Collection did not match any authenticated Joseph Richardson, Jr. maker's marks.

(IV). Additional Expert Commentary Regarding Spurious Richardson Marks:

Faked Richardson maker's marks are long reported.  Regarding Richardson family maker's marks, Martha Gandy Fales wrote that, "...such a large number of spurious marks have been created and attributed to the Richardsons ... (i)n 1938 John Marshall Phillips pointed out that Joseph Richardson was among those American goldsmiths whose work has been faked in greatest quantity." [ See: Joseph Richardson and Family Philadelphia Silversmiths, Martha Gandy Fales, 1974, page 74.]   Fales continues, "The suspect marks are usually characterized by a lack of skill in the cutting of the die resulting in the letters being crudely cut, uneven, and disproportionate in that the letters are too tall and thin or too short and thick." [Ibid, page 75.] 

(V). Energy Dispersive X-ray Fluorescence Analysis (ED-XRF):

Data using ED-XRF analysis with this nutmeg grater are currently unavailable, but outcomes based on this type of silver sampling would definitively aide to determine this nutmeg grater's place of origin.  ED-XRF analysis is highly recommended.   

Investigation Outcome:

The maker's mark on the nutmeg grater from the Nutt Collection does not match any authenticated Joseph Richardson, Jr. maker's marks nor is NutmegGraters.Com currently able to match or validate this maker's mark with any other specific silversmith. There is currently insufficient data to conclude with certainty whether the maker's mark in question is genuine or a forgery, but the inclusion of similarly located, yet mismatching die flaws between the two maker's marks is suggestive of an attempt to copy.  Lacking ED-XRF analysis results, the nutmeg grater's place of origin remains unknown and more study is recommended to resolve this issue.   

In 2015, as the result of careful investigation and based on evidence, Sotheby's experts determined that the maker's mark for this nutmeg grater was not that of Joseph Richardson Jr. of Philadelphia.  It was their opinion that the nutmeg grater in question was of English origin. Sotheby's removed "Lot 508" from their 2015 sale and later, this nutmeg grater was sold to the public on October 30, 2016 by a different auction house.    

                                                                                                                                         [KLOPFER article © May 2015  { © with updates January 2017} ]

 

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