Tips on Collecting
As with any personal interest, the more we
know about what we collect, the more we enjoy it! Certainly with the availability of
items designed by William Spratling and their increasing cost, it is more important than
ever to be able to evaluate those items of interest. There are very few sellers who
would deliberately mislead, but it is unreasonable to expect dealers to be experts in
every area of merchandise they sell. We often find Spratling treasures in flea
markets, estate sales, and auctions where we must depend upon our own ability to judge the
merits and authenticity of a piece. What should we look for?
Points to Remember
Are the hallmarks
appropriate to the design? (Are 1930s - 1945 hallmarks
on early designs? Are 1949 - 1967 hallmarks on
later designs?) Knowing the difference between
the two is often the easiest way to discern copies! Spratling
Silver: A Field Guide is organized by design periods
so that it is easier to learn which are "early" designs
and which are "later designs."
Is the construction
appropriate for the creation of the item? While some
items produced in Spratling's workshop were not as finely crafted
as others, there was a fairly high level of workmanship required
before "maestro approval" was obtained. Construction
features of each design period are pictured and discussed in
Spratling Silver: A Field Guide.
Are there appropriate
signs of wear, usage and polishing? Remember, the
most recent Spratling objects were made at least 36 years ago,
and some were made 72 years ago. Very few items have been
packed away for 36 - 72 years and never used!
designs and hallmarks have been copied for more than
50 years. Study the information below so you will know
what to look for!
Successful designs of jewelry and objects were always
copied, and although a design may be a "Spratling"
design, unless it is authentically hallmarked as such
with a Spratling primary hallmark of the correct period,
or there is irrefutable documented provenance, it cannot be
considered as having the same value as an appropriately hallmarked
piece. Hallmarks, however, can be added or newly created,
so it is essential that we look beyond the fact that a Spratling
hallmark appears on the item. (It
is even possible to photograph "correct" hallmarks
and have dies made that will reproduce the photographed images
on non authentic items.) It is important to remember
that the lettering on each of the authentic Spratling hallmarks
was hand done. Therefore we find an irregularity in the
spacing and placement of the letters, particularly in the
WS Print Circle hallmark
(photo on the left.) There are copies on the market today
wherein the lettering on this hallmark is so perfect and regular
it appears to have been created by a machine as in the "fake"
hallmark on the right. In the WS Print Circle
mark, the letters surrounding the circle were raised while the
WS in the center was incised (cut into) into the silver.
The Spratling Silver letters were raised in the oval
cartouche. (The photographs do not always adequately show
the difference between the incised and raised letters.)
examples of Spratling silver are appearing on the market with
a WS Print Circle hallmark in which
the center letters, "WS" have been stamped
more than once thus blurring the center part of the image.
These marks are highly suspicious since the entire hallmark
stamp (punch) was a single unit. Therefore, if the center
letters were struck twice the letters on the outer rim should
also have been struck twice. On some of the examples we
are seeing now, only the center is struck twice. (It is
true that entire stamps were sometimes moved in the process
and thus, two overlapping marks are created. But the entire
mark is affected - not merely the center letters.) Spratling
used a variety of hallmarks (each with a fairly definable time
span), and so we need to assess whether the design
of the specific item in question correlates with the time frame
that particular hallmark was used. For
example, most of Spratling's jewelry incorporating copper or
bronze were made prior to 1946. If you refer to the section
on this website Hallmarks - What Do
They Mean? you will see that the primary hallmarks
WS Print, WS Print Later,
WS Print Circle, and Spratling Silver
were used during the time frame circa 1933 until circa 1946.
Therefore we would expect to see one of these hallmarks
on a Spratling piece which incorporates copper or bronze. Another
example of the relation of hallmarks to Spratling design and
period of production is that we should be concerned if we find
a design we know was made only after 1950 if it has a circa
1940 - 1946 hallmark. The dragonfly pin shown on the right would
be of concern if it had a hallmark like that pictured above
on the right. Instead, the dragonfly pin should have one of
the hallmarks used during the 1950s and 1960s. See the
Hallmark section for more information
and photos of those marks.
Spratling designs have a bold clarity that is consistent throughout
the entire 1931 - 1967 period. His early designs reflect
ranch "rope" patterns, straps, and designs with heavy
incised carving or cut out work based on pre-Columbian motifs.
Spratling also created a distinctive, light weight repousse
body of work representative of stylized pre-Columbian and Hispanic
motifs. By the early 1940s Spratling combined many
of his silver designs with native stones and materials thus
creating surface and textural contrast. After 1947, his
designs became simpler with greater emphasis on line, surface,
and the interplay of light and shadow. He combined indigenous
materials of strong contrast with silver so that he could further
emphasize the sculptural lines of his refined design ethic.
In the late 1940's Spratling was working on his project to train
young Alaskan men to fabricate silver to be used in combination
with their own indigenous materials, and as a part of that project,
Spratling created 200 protoype models. Although the project
never developed beyond the initial training of 7 men in 1949,
Spratling had visited Alaska a number of times and was impressed
with the similarity of early cultures among the Alaskans, Northwest
Coast Indians and pre-Columbian civilizations. A significant
number of Spratling's designs created during this period are
influenced by this "Alaskan experience." In
the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s he created many designs executed
in gold and other materials that reflected ideas inspired by
his time spent in Alaska. He also continued to produce
jewelry combined with ebony and pre-Columbian jade. Throughout
the evolution of Spratling's design spectrum, several themes
are ever present. The use of applied and inset circles
(of both silver and other materials), the depiction of animals
and birds, and the use of a single or clasped hands as a design
element can be found in every one of Spratling's design periods
from 1931 until his death in 1967.
USED A study of Spratling's catalogues and writings
clearly shows that he favored the combination and use of specific
materials at various periods in his designing career.
This too, can be additional confirmation in assigning date ranges
for a specific item. Extensive information and photos of
designs with the materials used in each design period can be
found in Spratling Silver: A Field
Even the most recent of Spratling's pieces made during his lifetime
is more than 35 years old. We should expect to find appropriate
evidence of age and usage on the surface
of each piece. Even with the best of care, silver shows
small scratches which, to a connoisseur, define the essence
of patina. Don't
confuse tarnish with patina. This patination comes from
usage, from polishing, and from exposure to air and is highly
desirable! Unfortunately, some older pieces have been
mechanically buffed to produce a "like new" surface.
Even when that has taken place, a diligent inspection should
show areas in crevices, turnings, etc., where no buffing wheel
could reach. Without such evidence, it may be that this
really is a newly created piece. There are very very few
items that were purchased 44+ years ago and remained sealed
in an air tight material and never unwrapped. The ashtray on
the right shows the normal patination we would expect.
(Remember however, that patina can be acquired with only a few
years of usage. A lovely mellow patina does not guarantee age.
It does tell us that the item is not brand new.)
Spratling's construction techniques remained fairly consistent
throughout the 1931 to 1967 period. Indeed there were
improvements in machinery which enabled the silversmiths to
be more efficient, but generally, boxes were constructed in
the same way, hinges and their attachment are consistent,
joining of, or insetting wood to silver shows the same method
of attachment (note photo showing silver rivet joining silver
and wood), and necklace and bracelet fasteners did not vary
within their own time frame. Therefore,
we should see consistency in these details. Many of Spratling's
early bracelet designs (1933 - 1946) have silver pin hinge closures.
This kind of fastener (bracelet closure) was used by Spratling
until 1946 for his "production" pieces. (Many of the
bracelets made AFTER Spratling's death have inappropriate fasteners
that are obviously not merely jewelry repairs). Spratling's
earrings from 1931 - 1946 were hand made and the only "purchased"
or mass produced finding was the actual screw on each earring.
Only screw back earrings were made in Spratling's workshop during
his lifetime. Early cuff links (circa 1933 - 1946) had a flat
disc or circular "button" or even another identical
decorative motif connected to each other with a few links of
chain to form the cuff link. For commercial cuff links
Spratling produced circa 1949 and later, he used a toggle fastener.
These construction details did not vary. On early
jewelry and object pieces, we should find some remaining evidence
of filing marks where each piece was cut. At the time of production,
every effort was made to smooth away these file marks, but when
we look closely, we should be able to discern them. (Note
the file marks on the early belt buckle in the photo on the
(Notice the hinge
on the finely crafted box - c. 1949 - below on the right in
contrast with the cruder hinge from a c. 1940 box depicted in
the photo on the left.) Some Spratling pieces are beautifully
and finely constructed. Other examples of the same design
may lack the finely finished touches or the fastidious workmanship.
This is one of the charms of individually crafted pieces; no
two are truly alike. Certainly, however, the piece that was
created with greater attention to the fine details will always
remain a more valuable piece over the same design that has been
finished in a cruder fashion..
WEIGHT Pieces created
by hand will vary in weight and in size. Some designs that were made over a period
of time may have been modified to reflect customer preferences. The design
specifications, therefore, may result in a slightly lighter or heavier piece.
If however, there is a considerable decrease (or increase) in weight
in combination with poorly executed details in a
piece, we should seek additional evidence of authenticity.
Collecting is more than merely finding an item
to purchase. It is an ongoing study, an evaluation...a learning process. When
our passion is the collection of hand created works of art, we must learn to identify the
clues that each piece provides. The total consideration of that resulting story of clues
enables us to collect with confidence and provides us an enriching experience whereby we
become a little closer to the genius of talented designers and artisans.
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