Sugar tongs are trending

Has “Downton Abbey” bought back an item from early English tea culture?

Your sterling silver sugar tongs were made in England in the 18th century. One of the wonderful things about English silver is that it always tells a story about its history because of its required markings or hallmarks.

 Hallmarking began in England in the year 1300. The marks would legally certify that a piece was made of sterling silver. Hallmarks also identify regions and dates. Your tongs are hallmarked with a lion passant (which certifies solid sterling silver) and the maker’s mark HB (a Hester Bateman mark used from 1761 to 1790). The absence of a duty mark (a symbol stamped on all English silver from 1784 to 1890) lets us know that this piece was made before 1784. Most pieces will also usually have a date letter, which enables us to accurately know the year in which a piece was made; however, a date letter does not appear visible on your piece.

 Hester Bateman took over her husband’s silver business in the 18th century when her husband died. She proved her knowledge in the silver trade and went on to become one of England’s most celebrated silversmiths. Hester was a single, widowed mother who continued the family tradition of silversmithing by teaching her children the silver trade. The Bateman family silver business carried on for more than 50 years.

 Sugar tongs were a popular part of 18th and 19th century English tea culture. They have even regained popularity today with the show “Downton Abbey.” Somewhere between raw sugar cane and sugar packets, sugar tongs were created. They kept tea refined and sweet. In the 19th century, the sugar cube was invented. Sir Henry Tate in 1872 purchased the patent for the sugar cube, marketing and popularizing it into a giant success. Tate is also widely known for founding the Tate museums in London.

 Your sugar tongs are a nice example of early silver, displaying brightly cut engraved decorations that extend from the bowls (the part which picks up the sugar) to the bow (the part that fits within your palm), which bears a family monogram. Sterling sugar tongs usually sell for less than $100. Since your sugar tongs are from the 1700s and were made by the noted silversmith Hester Bateman, they are a more sought-after example. I would value them at $250.

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