Silver folding fork

WB.215     1825–75 • folding fork folding spoon pen tooth-pick

Curator's Description

Folding fork; silver; two prongs; fluted shaft with two collars with empty settings, one moveable to confine the hinge; top, one side with cherub holding empty setting, other with St George in relief charging the dragon; top pierced sphere with kneeling figure; sphere unscrews and withdraws metal pen from handle, in tube of which is toothpick; should have spoon-bowl to fit prongs. Openwork.

This object was collected and bequeathed to the British Museum by Ferdinand Anselm Rothschild.

Detailed Curatorial Notes

Text from Tait 1991a:-

Origin: Uncertain; no silver punch-marks; previously described as “German, 16th century”, but more probably produced in a German workshop during second half of 19th century.

Marks: No punch-marks have been struck on this piece.

Provenance: None is recorded.

Commentary: WB.214 offers a detailed description of a very similar object which has survived complete with its spoon-bowl. The entry concludes with a full commentary on the degree to which that piece is derived from the only well-documented examples - the silver-gilt example in the Munich Residenz (known since before 1820) and the enamelled gold example in the Grünes Gewölbe, Dresden (known since before 1724). By comparison, this folding fork is even more closely based on the Munich example than the combined fork and spoon (WB.214).

It repeats in an identical fashion the scene of St George and the Dragon and the kneeling Princess, the pierced spherical finial, the pen and toothpick (though the earpick is now missing), the two collars on the shaft (one being movable), the hinged section with two prongs and a female term in relief (on the underside, below the hinge). Only the two silver birds (swans?) immediately above the prongs are not repeated, but as there is an empty space and a small hole in the appropriate place it may be deduced that the two birds were originally intended to decorate this fork as well.

There are various differences in detail, especially around the hinge where, for example, the four tight scrolls that form a kind of cresting are entirely without precedent, whilst the Munich example's free-standing dolphin on the upper surface has not been repeated. However, the most significant difference is in the quality: the loss of definition on all the figures and on the various motifs in relief is dramatic. The surface is so bad that it may be the result of some inferior kind of reproductive process, which might also account for the unfinished appearance and the total lack of detailed chasing and polishing of the piece.

It may be compared with another published example in London, which is silver-gilt but bears no punch-marks; it was first recorded in England in 1884 in Alfred de Rothschild's collection and subsequently entered the Schroder Collection (see C. Davis, ‘A Description of the Works of Art forming the Collection of Alfred de Rothschild’, II, 1884, no. 157; W. W. Watts, ‘Continental Silver in the Collection of Baron and Baroness Bruno Schroder’, 1927, p. 88 (illus.); T. B. Schroder, in ‘The Art of the European Goldsmith: Silver from the Schroder Collection’, exh. cat., New York, 1983, no. 69 (illus.); G. Schiedlausky, Ir süit die zende stüren niht mit mezzern, ‘Kunst & Antiquitäten’, Pt 6, 1988, p. 40, fig. 34). It has been consistently described as a work of the late sixteenth century and as probably having a Nuremberg origin, although there is no mention in the 1983 Schroder Catalogue of the marked (Friedrich Hillebrandt) silver example in the Munich Residenz. It is, however, a very similar variant and, not having lost its spoon, the Schroder version makes an even closer comparison as the two prongs of the fork pass under the wings of the 'applied cast female demi-figure' on the back of its silver-gilt spoon. Unlike the Munich prototype, the demi-figure's wings on the Schroder example are not set with gemstones, but on the other hand its étui has survived with both its toothpick and its earpick. In an attempt to give variety the maker of the Schroder example has reversed the applied figures so that, unlike the Munich prototype, the equestrian group of St George is shown approaching the Dragon from the finial end; and furthermore he has 'improved' on Friedrich Hillebrandt's free-standing dolphin (near the hinge). The surface detail of the Schroder example is excellently crisp and the definition of the figures and the relief ornament wonderfully sharp. However, whether it is still possible to accept it as genuine is doubtful, for it is no more than an unmarked, but almost identical, version of the documented Munich example that can be reliably traced back to King Max I Joseph of Bavaria before 1820. To determine the author of this most skilfully finished pastiche remains an intriguing question for future research.

Interestingly, the Schroder Collection also contains a second example - which, apparently, is so obviously inferior that it was excluded from the 1983 Exhibition Catalogue (personal communication from Mr T. B. Schroder, who also expressed the view that this second example was almost certainly modern). There may now be several more to add to those listed in Marc Rosenberg, ‘Der Goldschmiede Merkzeichen’, 3rd edn, Frankfurt, vol. III 1925 - such as the silver-gilt St George and the Dragon and Princess spoon that was attributed to the sixteenth century and sold in Monaco in May 1975 (Sotheby Parke Bernet Monaco S.A., ‘Meubles et Objets d'Art provenant de I'Hotel Lambert et du Chateau de Ferrières’, 25-26 May 1975, lot 151, illus. on p. 118) - but all of them now need to be brought together and compared in an objective and scientific manner with the two documented examples in Dresden and Munich.

In the mean time, neither this folding fork nor the combined fork and spoon (WB.214) seem to justify the former attribution to the sixteenth century.


  • Hercules Read, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest: Catalogue of the Works of Art bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898’, London, 1902, no. 215
  • O.M. Dalton, ‘The Waddesdon Bequest’, 2nd edn (rev), British Museum, London, 1927, no. 215
  • Hugh Tait, 'Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum. II. The Curiosities', British Museum, London, 1991, no.49, figs. 404-408.Image: Group photographs depicts registration numbers: WB.214 and WB.215.
  • References

    1. Read 1902: Read, Charles Hercules, The Waddesdon Bequest. Catalogue of the Works of Art Bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild, M.P., 1898, London, BMP, 1902
    2. Dalton 1927: Dalton, Ormonde Maddock, The Waddesdon Bequest : jewels, plate, and other works of art bequeathed by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild., London, BMP, 1927
    3. Tait 1991a: Tait, Hugh, Catalogue of the Waddesdon Bequest in the British Museum; III The 'Curiosities', London, BMP, 1991

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