A rare fruit spoon by C.R. Ashbee

Every now and again something very special comes along. When I spotted this spoon I knew immediately that it was an early design by Charles Robert Ashbee.

Ashbee was a leading figure in the Arts & Crafts movement. He was an architect, designer, silversmith and jeweller and is best know for being the founder of the Guild of Handicraft. The Guild was established in 1888 and made some of the most important pieces of Arts & Crafts silver, jewellery and furniture, with Ashbee being the main designer.

I had seen very similar spoons in The Studio, 1897, Volume 9. However the design was very slightly different and even more interestingly, this spoon did not have the makers mark for Ashbee.

C. R. Ashbee fruit spoon
C. R. Ashbee fruit spoon

The spoon was hallmarked for London, 1898. However the makers mark was for Howell and James Ltd.

I have to admit that I had never heard of Howell James Ltd before. They were a high end retailer, silversmiths and jewellers based in Regent Street, London. They were very successful in the late 1800’s, working with students from the South Kensington school and better known artists and designers including Lewis F. Day, M.D. Wyatt and C.L. Eastlake. They also had links to Christopher Dresser’s Linthorpe Pottery and Brannam Pottery.

I believe that Howell James Ltd, along with others like Liberty & Co, Heals, Maples and Mappin and Webb, became a retailer for many of the key designers and makers from the Arts & Crafts movement.

It still left me needing to find the direct link between Ashbee and Howell and James Ltd.

C. R. Ashbee fruit spoon

Fortunately I have a good friend with a shared interest in Arts & Crafts research. He cracked it… thank you! 

An article appeared in The Artist, 1899, Vol 26. The article was about, of all things, an exhibition of Hungarian ornaments and antique lace being held by Howell and James. 

On the second page of the article the link to Ashbee is made. The article states “British taste may be better pleased by Mr Ashbee’s silverware, some notable examples of which are likewise on view and for sale at Messrs. Howell and James’s. Mr Ashbee’s work is so familiar to the frequenters of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition that it needs no special comment, and we confine ourselves to the reproduction of a dish in hammered silver and a fruit spoon of the same material“.

As luck would have it, the very spoon was illustrated.

It seems likely that Ashbee made a small number of items for Howell and James and allowed them to put their own makers mark on the pieces. It was quite common practice for makers to do this at the time although I have never come across this with Ashbee before. It’s also entirely possible that only one of these spoons was made for this sales exhibition.

As find go, this is certainly the best of the year so far. The spoon now belongs to a life long collector of objects by C.R. Ashbee and the Guild of Handicraft.

C. R. Ashbee fruit spoon