I came across this spoon the other day and was reminded of how the attribution of the marks changed some years ago. Anyone with a copy of Sir Charles Jackson's "English Goldsmiths and their Marks" (original unrevised version) will know that he tentatively suggested that these marks were representative of Belfast.
Why did he come to this conclusion? Probably for two reasons, the most obvious of course is the open hand mark resembling the Red Hand of Ulster and the other being that by far the highest concentration of discovery of pieces with this mark was in Northern Ireland.
We now know that these items are in fact Maltese and would date from the period 1800-1810.
Besides the open hand mark, Maltese silver of this period carries the makers mark and also a single letter that denotes one of the three silver standards permitted at this time, the standard was divided into 12ths and as follows:-
"F" (French Silver) 11 1/2 parts Silver to 1/2 part alloy
"R" (Roman Silver) 11 parts Silver to 1 part alloy
"M" (Maltese Silver) 10 1/2 parts Silver to 1 1/2 parts alloy
So why were so many pieces found in Ireland? The answer is simple, when the British wrestled the French out of Malta in 1800, it was the Royal Irish Fusiliers that were used for that campaign and presumably they brought these items back with them when they returned home.
I suppose there is a possibility that the hand was added to denote the victory, but if so an error occurred, the Red Hand of Ulster is always right handed where as the Maltese Silver mark is left handed.