McClellan Sterling Silverware

Here’s a story with many questions still left unanswered. Nevertheless, it is amazing what a bit of oral tradition, combined with document research and material culture can reveal.

For my bridal shower, I was blessed to receive from my aunt Maria a set of silverware that belonged to my great aunt Lillian McClellan, the sister of my great-great grandfather, Roddy McClellan. I also received a family bible that had also once belonged to Lillian (although the bible, along with the bookmarks within it, will be an interesting story for another time!)

This is the silverware, with a note from Maria:

The pieces are beautifully designed, with elegant floral patterns along the handles. In addition, the ends of each of the handles are engraved with the word “Lillian”:

For Christmas, my parents and Maria came together to give me a truly wonderful gift, certain to captivate the genealogist in me: Maria had a wooden silverware box that had originally belonged to Imogene (Everson) McClellan, Lillian’s mother, and it was also in this box Lillian kept her engraved silverware.

Here is the wooden silverware box:

On the top of the box, however, is a small gold plate shaped like a shield that has the name Barnard engraved on it.

Here is the Barnard inscription:

To the best of my knowledge, there in no family genealogical connection to any Barnards. In addition to the box itself from Maria, my parents added to the gift by doing research themselves. Dad’s knowledge of woodworking led him to the observation that the box was not hand-crafted by a family member – the work is beautiful and probably professional, as there is no external evidence of how it is connected (nails, pegs, etc). But neither is there any evidence of company markings or logos. Maria had pointed out that perhaps the silverware itself would have markings that would identify who made the silverware, and perhaps that would be connected to the box. My parents hypothesized that perhaps the silverware was purchased in the box, and that there might be a direct connection between the silverware and the box which held it. So my mother went online and found that the Barnard family of London had a long history of creating silverware, and that some of their markings indeed had symbols placed within a shield.

So for Christmas, I received not only the silverware box, but also a family story and some clues uncovered by my parents. The next part of this was to return home and check the markings on the silverware and see if they could be identified Barnard silverware.

On the fork, knife, and spoon were three hallmarks –
a lion, an ornate capital letter “R”, and a crown
(apologies for the quality, this is the clearest photo I could take of such fine detailing):

The lion marker is the most straightforward. This is a “standard mark”, which indicates the standard of the silver, in this case it is Sterling .925. The word STERLING after the marks also brings this point home! However, the use of the lion for the standard mark indicates that the silverware was made in Britain.

The second mark is an ornate capital R. This is the “date letter”, and is a little more tricky to interpret. The date letter system was introduced in London in 1478, and later in other major cities where silverware was made. “Its purpose was to establish when a piece was presented for assay or testing of the silver content. The mark letter changed annually in May, the cycles of date letters were usually in strings of 20 and each cycle was differentiated by a changing of the font, letter case and shield shape.” (from British Hallmarks) Although there are a wide variety of letters depending upon the city, Lillian’s silverware date letter seems to best match with London’s date letter of 1852.

Here are the London date letters (see the 1852 capital R):
Imogene Everson was born in 1852. Perhaps her parents purchased this silverware in honor of her birth, and Imogene later gave this silverware to her only daughter, Lillian, who then chose to engrave the silverware with her name.

The crown and lack of a maker’s mark are a bit of a curveball. The crown is an extremely generic symbol, and without a maker’s mark, it’s probably impossible to judge who exactly crafted this silverware. So the Barnard connection is still left a mystery. Perhaps the silverware was an inexpensive line of the Barnard’s. Perhaps Imogene simply received the box from elsewhere – a friend, a neighbor, etc. Whatever the case (and perhaps time will reveal more answers) it is wonderful to be in possession of objects with such a history, and I hope to someday pass these on to a daughter of my own.

To Maria, Mom, Dad, Lillian, and Imogene – thank you.
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2 thoughts on “McClellan Sterling Silverware

  1. my daughter the time detective. If only we could give you Mr Peabody’s way-back machine. Still, I am impressed by how much you are able to track down, with enough fact to make your deductions all very plausible. Keep it coming!

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