|When it comes to antique enamel
there are plenty of enamel spoons to be found, coveted and had by spoon collectors
around the world! Just about everyone, spoon collector or not, has happened upon an enamel spoon in his or her lifetime.
Souvenir enamel spoons of the past, as well as today, continue to be collectible, and although
some are cheap in cost, they are especially
rich in memory and close to the heart of many spoon collectors. But, the real beauty and artistic quality of antique enamel spoons is
found in the exquisitely hand crafted spoons of the past, with humor and whimsy and the delicacy of a flower. Some picture monkeys riding on horses, others horses dining with
geese, while others are stately and honorable. And, it is from these things that collectors are romanced by the
Enameling is the process of coating all or part of a silver spoon with brightly colored molten glass and has been in and out of
popularity among collectors for centuries, a process dating back to the early Egyptians. Many of the spoons of the Middle Ages were
enamelled and Russia has long been a leader in production of enamel spoons and other enamel wares. In Russia, nice enamel
objects were considered to be the most expensive and valuable. There was a resurgence of interest in enamel among the Western
Europeans during the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau periods.
Most silver enamel spoons bear hallmarks that indicate the age and origin because after 1300 A.D. every silversmith was required to
have a maker's mark. But, for enamel spoons that do not bear a mark, age and origin can often be determined by the distinctive
figures, shapes and subject matter of designs, and the enamel colors used. For example, many of the antique enamel spoons of the
eighteenth century display pastoral scenes, popular throughout Europe during that time. Particular countries or makers can be
distinguished by the enamel colors used or by a distinctive enamel technique that they used.
Niello, a mixture of copper, lead, silver, sulphur and potash, has often been used in combination with
enameled silver to enhance the ornamentation by making the designs visually stand out. When the niello is poured onto the surface, and then, heated, it blackens the
lower areas in the design, creating a higher contrast that is more aesthetically pleasing.
Some richly decorated spoons are intended for display only rather than use, and this is the case for a majority of enamel spoons.
Some of the painted enamels used on antique spoons have incredible intricacy, requiring much time and extreme difficulty to achieve.
Plique-a-jour is an example of this. Plique-a-jour is a technique used on enamel spoons in which a transparent enamel is enclosed
between a filigree fretwork, creating a stained glass or jewelled effect. The cells must be kept small since there is no backing to the
enamel. The enamel becomes hard and attaches to the metal upon firing. This is a very difficult process for even the most skilled
artisans. Many of the plique-a-jour enamel spoons are quite fanciful in design, and are intended for their artistic value and
collectability, since the extreme fragility makes the spoons unsuitable for utilitarian use. Prices for antique spoons of this type demand a higher
price due to the time and skill required to produce an enamel spoon by this method.
Cloisonne is another technique used on enamel spoons. Cloisonne is a process first developed by the Chinese in which thin wire is
applied to the surface of the spoon, creating cells of various shapes; the enamel is then applied to the spaces between the cells. This
technique is alsohighly labor intensive, and as a result many western and Russian artisans have abandoned this technique.
Champleve creates a similar look to cloissone, with significantly less time and skill required. The metal of the spoon is die cast or
stamped to create a raised design in the surface and the enamel is applied between the raised areas. The quality and artistic value are
greatly diminished compared to cloisonne; however, these spoons are still beautiful examples of enamel spoons, highly collectible
and much more affodable to the collector.
Among the most popular, and highly collectible enamel spoons today are souvenir spoons. Spoon surfaces all over the world are
enamelled with every imaginable genre: portraits, state scenes, pastoral scenes, animals, nature scenes, buildings, cities, flowers,
fruits, presidents and the list goes on and on. The bowl of the enamel spoon may be enamelled, only the handle or perhaps the entire
spoon. But, whatever the fancy, whatever the theme, these enamelled gems continue to make the collector's heart pitter-patter.