Snuff box - maker I.E

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Snuff box - maker I.E

Postby scorpio » Tue Feb 23, 2016 5:08 pm

This George III Irish silver snuff box, which I recently repatriated from San Francisco, is by a maker with the initials I.E in an oval shaped reserve (not quite an oval but for simplicity I'll call it that) but does this mark belong to James England, John Egar, John Egan or the elusive John Ebbs? It carries a full set of hallmarks for Dublin 1810 as well as the retailer mark of William Hamy - . The Sovereign's head is also stamped on the outside of the snuff box with the same punch as used inside but I have no idea why. The snuff box is in fine condition with the inside gilded.




Regarding the date mark O for 1810 which one would expect to see in an engrailed shield, Douglas Bennett explains all in his book Irish Georgian Silver (pages 283-4). An alternative shaped punch was introduced with the letter O in 1810, being a flat-topped shield with hollowed corners. Both sets of marks apparently ran for a few years and silver has been found with the alternative hollowed corner punches for O (1810), P (1811) and Q (1812), used mostly on flatware and small items. The mark is upside down on the snuff box and lightly punched.

1810 O date mark

The Aeneas Ryan blog (now closed) touched on this I.E mark a few years ago and I must credit it with some of the information here, especially in relation to the 1810 assay lists.

Douglas Bennett does not show this oval mark in any of his books and attributes IE (no pellet) in a rectangular reserve to James England, a mark found on silver flatware. James England registered with the Dublin Goldsmiths' Company in 1791. He is found in the Names of Dublin Goldsmiths found in Directories from 1760 to 1808 but not in Official List of Freeman of the Goldsmiths' Company for the years 1795 to 1798. In Irish Georgian Silver, Douglas Bennett gives his dates as 1791 to 1815 based on Street Directories and he had silver assayed in 1791 so we can be sure of his starting date. I checked Wilson's Street Directories of Dublin from 1800 to 1815 and while he appears in the 1800, 1801 and 1802 Directories, he has gone by 1804 and never appears again so why he was omitted from 1804 to 1815 and beyond is a mystery. Silver flatware is extant with James England's IE mark and M West retailer mark as late as 1820, 5 years after Bennett's date.

James England mark with West & M West retailer marks

Online searches reveal a few silver snuff boxes being attributed to James England but as virtually none provide a photograph, it's not possible to determine if these have IE in a rectangular reserve, I.E in an oval reserve or another I.E mark. I'd be very surprised if they had the IE mark Bennett attributes to James England as he was not known to be a box maker and why would he use a different mark on snuff boxes to the one he used on flatware from 1791 to 1820? The only 'James England' attributed snuff box where a photograph of the maker's mark is provided shows the oval I.E mark and not IE in a rectangular reserve so it's likely the other snuff boxes do too.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art attributes the oval I.E mark to James England, as seen on a silver nutmeg grater hallmarked Dublin 1805-06 shown below. The silvermakersmarks website shows this mark but does not attribute it to any particular silversmith.

Philadelphia Museum Nutmeg grater marks

Others attribute this oval I.E mark to John Egar. Delamer and O'Brien's 500 Years of Irish Silver mentions that the National Museum of Ireland has two snuff boxes attributed to John Egar, hallmarked for Dublin 1807 and 1810, but the maker's mark shown for those boxes is I.E in a rectangular reserve with clipped corners. The Museum also has harlequin sugar tongs attributed to Egar, hallmarked for Dublin 1815, with the retailer's mark of LAW. John Egar's name does not appear in the list of registered goldsmiths. In Irish Georgian Silver (1972), Bennett lists him as a Silversmith and Dentist operating in 1804 from 20 Crampton Court and in 1827 from 8 Pembroke Court. However, Wilson's Street Directory does not list John Egar until 1824 working as a Silversmith from 16 Fishamble Street. By 1826, he is at 20 Crampton Court, again as Silversmith but in 1828, his occupation is described as Silversmith and Dentist, an unusual combination. By 1834, he seems to be working only as a Dentist and remains as such at 20 Crampton Court until the last Directory I checked, 1848. The Directories do not show him in Pembroke Court in 1827 or any other year but that really is of no consequence. Why the Street Directories do not list Egar until 1824 is a mystery as is the reason Bennett omits his name from his later book Collecting Irish Silver (1984). Jackson does not mention John Egar but according to the Aeneas Ryan blog, his name appeared in the 1810 assay list in respect of a grater bottom (presumably part of a nutmeg grater). Having married Mary Davis, genealogy archives mention John Egar having his son, Michael Egar, baptised in SS. Michael & John RC Church, Rosemary Lane, off Cook Street in 1805.

Drawing of John Egar's mark in 500 years of Irish Silver

Wine label with oval I.E mark (very faint pellet) attributed to John Egar with LAW retailer mark

John Egan is another Dublin silversmith who used an IE mark (no pellet) and that was in a rectangular reserve without a pellet very similar to the mark of James England. Bennett does not list him in Irish Georgian Silver but does in Collecting Irish Silver with dates given of 1804 to 1833. John Egan registered with the Dublin Goldsmiths' Company in 1804 but does not appear in Wilson's Street Directory of Dublin until 1823 and is gone by 1827. Finding silver with his mark is like finding a needle in a haystack. One UK dealer attributed the oval I.E mark to John Egan or James England and an Irish auction house sold some silver said to have Egan's mark but unfortunately does not provide a photograph. The Irish Retailer page on this forum mentions John Egan as supplier to retailer Matthew West.

Some auction houses attribute this oval I.E mark as seen on wine labels, flatware and a snuff box to John Ebbs but the reason for this attribution eludes me. His name is not mentioned in Douglas Bennett's books or indeed in any other Irish silver reference book, but Charles James Jackson refers to a John Ebbs appearing on a plate of pewter preserved in the Dublin Assay Office showing marks in use from about 1765 to 1812. However, this is undoubtedly the mid 18th century Dublin watchmaker John Ebbs, who worked from around 1762 to 1774, when he passed away at just 35 years of age. He is the same gentleman Jackson names in his list of Quarter Brothers and Journeymen for the year 1762 and in his list of Freemen of the Dublin Goldsmiths Company as a W.M. (Watchmaker), admitted in 1766 . In any case, the mark Jackson shows for John Ebbs is I.E in a rectangular reserve and not the oval I.E mark in question. One auction house attributed a pendant snuff box to John Ebbs but did not provide a photograph. The snuff box included the mark of Law for Dublin retailer William Law. The same LAW retailer mark is also seen on the Madeira wine label shown below along with the oval I.E mark. John Ebbs is just too mysteriously absent from Dublin Goldsmiths Company records and various Dublin archives and the Aeneas Ryan blog mentions Ebbs does not seem to appear in the 1810 assay lists. I suspect attributions to John Ebbs are more likely based on what some auction house erroneously said in the past and perpetuated by others.

John Ebbs mark in Jackson's Silver & Gold Marks

Wine label with oval I.E mark (faint pellet) attributed to John Ebbs with LAW retailer mark

If the above isn't confusing enough, there is another I.E mark on Irish silver of this period and that is I.E in a rectangular reserve with the right corners clipped, similar to a reserve used by William Bond (Bennett no. 527). Interestingly, it appears on a silver-mounted cowrie shell snuff box which a US dealer attributes, somewhat inexplicably, to John Egan. It also appears on a grape scissors, attributed by an Irish dealer to James England. It has clipped corners on the right, the bottom left clip being smaller that the one on top and there is the barest hint of clipped left corners so perhaps this is John Egar's mark as shown in 500 years of Irish Silver and the drawing is not quite accurate.

I.E mark with clipped right corners on a silver-mounted cowrie shell snuff box

So, to summarise, I feel confident we can eliminate the mysterious John Ebbs who is just too elusive and most likely never existed. James England was a flatware maker and I have yet to see a silver box or any non-flatware silver with the IE mark Bennett attributes to him, which he used from 1791 to 1820. His silver is often found with the retailer mark of West (Jacob West) or M West (Matthew West) whereas the I.E in an oval reserve seems to be primarily associated with LAW for William Law and now HAMY for William Hamy. Regarding John Egan, I can't find any silver with the mark Bennett attributes to him and nowhere is he described as a box maker. That leaves John Egar and he is probably the most likely owner of this I.E mark in an oval reserve as he was a known box maker and the sugar tongs in the National Museum has the retailer's mark of LAW, same as silver with the oval I.E mark. The authors do not mention if the Egar snuff boxes have retailer marks. Some day soon, I'll call to the Museum and ask the curator if he could show me the Egar snuff boxes and tongs to check the marks and take photographs.

I hope others can add to this research especially if you own any silver with this particular I.E mark.


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