Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

PHOTOS REQUIRED - marks + item
crewenna
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Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby crewenna » Mon Feb 16, 2015 3:23 pm

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Can anyone help me decode this very odd mix of hallmarks on my tastevin? The first two on the lower photo occur on the outside of the bowl as in the upper photo. Is "BB" the maker? I'm not sure if it is a crown, a star or something else over the sans serif letter A. The crab is that very small mark in the V of the serpent's tail, and there is another crab on the top of the handle nearest the camera. The third hallmark - a crown over three fleurs de lys - is stamped on the underside of the tastevin, about 1cm off-centre. This, too, is repeated on the handle - the fourth hallmark image - also visible on the overhead view of the handle. At first glance the "A" and the crowned fleurs de lys resemble 18th century marks, but the crab is clearly post-1838. But if that's the case, why is the maker's mark not in a lozenge, and what do the other marks signify? Someone suggested the piece was an earlier one that had been re-assayed, but I'm not sure I go along with that - although I'd like to!

vervene
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby vervene » Thu Feb 19, 2015 3:43 am

Hello,

Sorry but I think it's fake 18th silver marks...

flycasta
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby flycasta » Wed Feb 25, 2015 5:03 am

My initial thought was Hanau marks but maybe not....

crewenna
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby crewenna » Wed Feb 25, 2015 1:48 pm

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Since posting this topic I have noticed a VERY FAINT (polished out) beak-iron or bigorne mark on the underside of the handle. It's the only evidence of a bigorne anvil mark on the tastevin and strangely this one is underneath the crowned fleurs de lys mark. I suppose this indicates that the assaying is genuine, though no one has yet come up with any explanation, other than it might bear pseudo-marks of some kind. I'm pretty sure nobody would go to the trouble of putting bigorne counter-marks on a fake or a reproduction, particularly beneath an unwarranted mark. You might expect it under the crab mark(s), but there's absolutely no trace of anything there. It still doesn't explain what the other marks are, or why the maker's mark (if that's what the 'BB' is) isn't in a diamond shaped lozenge - which by law it should have been.

Although the bigorne mark is very faint, by photographing it in different lighting, I have come up with two images (converted to monochrome for easier viewing) and from those, I believe I have identified the insect as one from the medium-sized Departements bigorne anvil on page 215 of Tardy (1985), second from the top, right hand column. Unfortunately there's not enough of the adjacent marks to be 100% certain. The second photo, though it looks a bit like an electron-microscope shot (which btw it ain't) is taken from a lower angle to get an increase in the contours. But it does show up some of the lower joints of the insect's limbs, which aren't apparent in the first photo.

Any further ideas, guys?

JayT
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby JayT » Wed Feb 25, 2015 3:52 pm

Hmmm...the bigorne mark was counter struck with the guarantee mark on French silver. The crowned fleur de lys on your tastevin is not a guarantee mark that I recognize, so it is not logical to me that you'd find a bigorne mark with it.
I agree with others that these are spurious marks with the exception of the crab mark.
A more promising avenue might be to decipher the symbol between the back legs of the crab to determine the province where it was made.
Tastevins often are made as promotional or tourist items, and reproduction or fantasy marks are added for appeal.

crewenna
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby crewenna » Wed Feb 25, 2015 4:51 pm

I concur with what you and the others say about the possibility of a fake or 'tourist' item, JayT, but it's completely bizarre that there should be a bigorne mark at all. And yes, I agree with your comment that bigorne marks are usually counterstruck behind the silver standard mark, but it's still a puzzle. I'll have a go at trying to get a clear image of the crab's hind legs after cleaning it a bit - but, boy, it's so small! I'll need a microscope! Anyway, thanks for all your efforts, folks.

oel
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby oel » Wed Feb 25, 2015 4:54 pm

Hi All,

The crab mark 800/1000 fineness, indicates limited or restricted warranty; assay by touchstone used 1838-1962 often seen in combination with pseudo French guild marks. No old wine, to me the ‘tastevin’ taste a bit young and without patina.

Oel.

crewenna
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby crewenna » Thu Feb 26, 2015 3:45 am

Thanks Oel, but that still doesn't really answer the question: why the bigorne anvil marks behind what most of you (probably quite rightly) regard as a pseudo mark? Why would the assay office allow that - unless it was a 'favour' to a 'client' (oh, why did I ever read 'The Three Musketeers')? I really cannot believe they'd have used the bigorne anvil behind only a pseudo mark. All my other post-1838 tastevins have clear evidence of bigorne counter strikes behind the standard minerva/crab etc marks, even those that are over-polished. But I've never seen one behind anything other than a silver standard mark. Oel, can you point me to any examples of the 'often seen' combinations you refer to? And can anyone point me to the definitive reference to the crab mark being for 800/1000 fineness please? Tardy is the only place I have seen this, whereas other sources are far less clear (Carre for example). Tardy states '800' beneath both the boar's head and the crab and yet gives no mark for small provincial/departement items of 950/1000. It makes me wonder if it's a typo in Tardy. And on the 'French Hallmarks' page on this forum website - http://www.925-1000.com/Ffrench_marks.html - the crab has (1) beneath it and the boar has (2). I always thought this indicated fineness level! Educate and enlighten me, please!

oel
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby oel » Thu Feb 26, 2015 8:01 am

Hi,

What you call a bigorne mark under your crowned fleur-the-Lys, is it a genuine counter-mark?

Bigorne; to discourage hallmarking fraud and deter the illegal practice of transposing marks from one to another, a system to counter-mark each hallmark was adopted. The process utilized a special insect-engraved anvil, called a bigorne. The patterns engraved into the anvil depicted zigzag rows of different insects, and items to be hallmarked were placed on top of them. When the item was stamped with a hallmark, the reverse side was impressed with the insect patterns from the anvil, leaving a counter-mark. These counter-mark insect impressions are often difficult to recognize because the numerous leg and body patterns are so closely arranged. This security method of counter- marking was used from 1818 until 1984
For comparison an image of a bigorne reverse site Minerva head 1883-1973 with number 2 under its chin to indicate minimum 800/1000 fineness. Indeed number 1 should indicate minimum 950/1000 fineness.
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The domestic French silver hallmarks 1838-1973, the question mark (?) indicates the presence of an assay office symbol, number, or letter to indicate the RAO (Regional Assay Office)

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Tardy’s book, International Hallmarks on Silver is a good source for a quick reference but for French silver (hall) marks, one of the most complex you need better reference books often very expensive, hard to get literature about French (hall)marks and maker’s mark.

You ask me to point to some examples of the crab mark in combination with pseudo marks. If you take some time to browse the well known online auction’s sites you might find descriptions like; with old French charge/discharge Marks, unknown maker’s mark and later added crab mark. Often those marks make no sense and are not mentioned in the known reference sources. We call them fantasy marks, part of the decoration and sometimes pseudo/fake marks to deceive. Often these objects with those spurious marks are made late 19th-early 20th century but are still made today. And I believe you have showed us one.

Reference/Gratitude: World Hallmarks Volume I Europe 19th to 21st centuries.

Oel.

JayT
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby JayT » Thu Feb 26, 2015 10:41 am

The only thing to add to Oel's excellent summary is a reminder that the crab and boar's head marks guarantee a minimum fineness of 800. In other words the fineness can be anywhere between 800 and 950. The silver standard for smalls is not precisely controlled because those objects are small and light.

crewenna
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby crewenna » Thu Feb 26, 2015 10:48 am

Thanks, Oel, for all your help. I wish I could afford better books!

As my earlier photos show, the assumed bigorne counter-mark is very rubbed, and as per that post, I have matched it to a particular insect (one of those seen in plan view, not profile). Mind you, I only have the marks shown in Tardy, which may well be insufficient. But the size and form of the insect, though a different beast, does closely resemble that on another tastevin I possess (counter-mark to a Minerva 1), which is well-authenticated to 1890-99. Obviously I can only make assumptions based on what I see, and I shall certainly keep my eyes open for examples of pseudo-marks on the Web. My other course of action is, as JayT suggests, to see if I can decipher anything between the crab's back legs, which might shed a bit of light on its origin at least. But I won't be able to do that for a week or two as I'm away from home just now.

Having said all that, can anyone provide any clarification on why - assuming the crab mark is genuine - there is no maker's mark in a lozenge? I understood that, post 1838 until very recently, it had to be marked in that way. I'm disinclined to think the crab is a faked mark for two reasons: (a) it's an incredibly small and relatively complex, detailed mark and (b) if you're going to put pseudo marks on silver to confuse people by making it perhaps resemble an 18th century piece, why on earth would you then put a post-1838 mark on it? It rather defeats the object of doing it in the first place.

And thanks for your latest post, JayT. Just came in as I was about to submit this. It answers my question on fineness.

JayT
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby JayT » Thu Feb 26, 2015 12:32 pm

Umm, no. Since the nineteenth century in France, specifically 1838, only a silver standard mark is required on an object. Your tastevin has a genuine standard mark in my opinion: the crab. The rest, as all other respondents have said, are fantasy marks.

Many if not most manufacturers also stamp their maker's mark to take artistic responsibility for the item and to add to its interest for the buyer, but a maker's mark is not required. A jobber could make a job lot of tastevins, mark the objects as silver, and then sell them to a wholesaler or retailer who can mark them however they wish.

There are many examples of this practice. Perhaps a very obvious one is the nineteenth century jobbers who made flatware for Odiot. One of these, Jean Granvigne, a high-quality maker, marked his work for sale in some retail outlets, but did not mark for the flatware he made to be retailed by Odiot who stamped their own mark.

Here is a scenario: jobber sells a lot of tastevins to a wholesaler who specializes in souvenir items. Wholesaler then stamps a bunch of fantasy marks, and sells to retail gift shops. Jacques and Chantal take a wine tour in Burgundy where they buy a reproduction tastevin as a souvenir. They are aware that the item is silver, and aware that it is a reproduction. The problem arises when their tastevin hits the secondary market where it is sold as an eighteenth century antique to the unsuspecting buyer who is not that familiar with French marks. Until someone like you comes along and says, hey, something is not quite right here.

Sorry.

crewenna
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Re: Strange mix of hallmarks on French tastevin

Postby crewenna » Sat Feb 28, 2015 7:45 am

Well, thanks for all your help, guys. It just makes me wonder how many of those beaten-up old tastevins you see with marks 'resembling' 18th century ones and with a price ticket for hundreds of pounds (not that this one was in that category) really are the bee's knees. And I've seen lots like that. Caveat emptor! I think I'll stick to good old English silver that I know a lot more about!


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