WILLIAM SIMPSON AND HIS 1515 APOSTLE SPOONS
There are three known surviving spoons from William Simpson's 1515 set of the twelve Apostles and Christ the Master. The present spoon and the St James the Less spoon, now in the collection of the Huntingdon Library and Art Museum, Pasadena, California are both distinguished by their excellent gauge and quality. The St. James the Less spoon is illustrated in R. R. Wark, British Silver in the Huntington Collection, San Marino, California, 1978, cat. no. 309, having been sold from the Dr Wilfred Harris Collection at Christie's London on 19 June 1957, lot 130, where it was acquired by the legendary dealer and co-author of the definitive work on early spoons Mrs How of Edinburgh for £1,350. A further spoon with the finial formed as St. Matthew was sold at Christie's London on 21 April 1896, lot 223.
The attribution to William Simpson of the maker's mark 'fringed S', which appears on the present spoon, as well as on a great number of other high quality spoons dating from around 1510 to 1545, was made by the renowed spoon expert Timothy Kent F.S.A. in his work London Silver Spoon Makers, London, 1981, pp. 9-10. In his review of the Quernmore Collection published in The Finial in 2008 he noted that this spoon 'scores full marks on all counts: ‘a very fine heavy spoon, excellently modelled finial, very crisp, good marks'. Two further examples of his work, The Morgan Apostles, of St. Bartholomew and St. Simon Zelotes dated 1546, once in the celebrated Pierpont Morgan collection were sold in the Benson Collection sale, the private collection of Mrs How of Edinburgh, at Christie's on 26 November 2014, lot 443.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE APOSTLE SPOON
The form of the apostle spoon follows the development of earlier spoons, their finials formed from a full figure. The earliest such examples of this form are the Wodewose spoons, with finials cast in form of the figure of a wild man. These appear in the 13th and 14th centuries. One such example was sold from the Benson Collection, Christie's, London, 4 June 2013, lot 320, £85,875. Spoons with cast apostle finials were probably made as early as the 14th century, although the earliest examples which can be definitely dated are a group of spoons, presumably once part of a set, which are hallmarked for London 1490 (The Benson Collection, op. cit., lot 329, £59,475). Traditionally, as noted above, they would have been made in groups of twelve, one to represent each apostle, and a thirteenth representing Christ the Master, however, given the relatively small number of complete sets to have survived it is perhaps as likely that they were intended to be given as gifts, either individually or in pairs.