October 11, 2008

Rummage Around in a Dig for Gold

By Jeffery Muse

GOLD is mined across the world and has been greatly prized since ancient times.

It appears as veins in various types of rock, founds as flakes, dust or luckiest of all, as nuggets but is also present in electrum beside silver.

The mineral itself is wonderfully ductile. It can be drawn into a tiny, tiny wire so fine as barely visible to the eye and this uniqueness makes the mineral highly desirable throughout the world.

Just a single grain can be stretched to measure 500ft (152.4m). It is a wonderfully malleable material but on its own is far too soft for many uses and so is mixed with other minerals like silver, copper, cadmium, nickel or zinc.

The final colour of the gold is also determined by the alloy used, and as a precious metal, is measured by a carat system which means a 24th part of a whole, so 24ct is pure and almost too soft for commercial applications, 18 has six parts of alloy and so on.

Hallmarks on gold in this country show the assay office, quality and will carry an indication of the year. A 9ct mark will have 37.5% of gold present and the figures 0.375 will declare the quality of the metal alongside the carat mark. This is the lowest grade sold in this country as gold, greatly valued as apart from anything else, regardless how many times a piece is melted and reformed into something else, it rarely loses weight or quality.

It is a permanent and attractive metal, often made into jewellery but also household ornaments, and for the table as seen recently when a set of six spoons sold for pounds 720 in Bonhams.

They were the Gold Tichborne Spoon Collection and modelled on an original set named the Tichborne Celebrities presented to Lord Mayor of London Sir Robert Tichborne.

Being an official set, no expense was spared by the Corporation of London in 1657, who engaged the services of William Cowdell for the task.

Being a gift, they were his to keep and when he died, his sister, Sarah Sharp, became their owner who popped them at auction the following year, and received a handsome profit of pounds 430 into the bargain.

The original set had 12 silver gilt spoons, all with London hallmarks for 1592/3 with a biblical or historical character in the round as the finial, cast in one piece.

These six weighed 4.79oz (149g) and such an important set was copied in silver, silver gilt and gold, and eventually some 5,050 sets were produced, of which this is a part depicting Queen Elizabeth (spelled Quene Elizabethe) St Peter, Hector of Troy, King Arthur, Charlemagne and Jushua (spelt Jusua Dux).

Further characters in a complete set were based on The Nine Worthies according to Shakespeare and Dryden, Three Christian Knights, Godfrey de Bouillon also known as Guy of Warwick, the Three Pagans included Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and The Mystical Figures included Christ, of course, and the Three Jews were joined by King David and Judas Maccabaeus.

Many of the original sets have been dispersed by now, as in this instance, so it is always worth checking to see if any of these spoons are lying, unrecognised, in a collection.

For antiques and works of art advice, Jeffery Muse is available on 029 2072 7980.

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