The acorn-knop spoon is among the earliest identifiable forms of post-Roman European spoons, with examples dating as early as the beginning of the 14th century. It is also one of the earliest forms of spoon in what Commander and Mrs How describe as an 'International Form' (Commander G. E. P. How and J. P. How, English and Scottish Silver Spoons, Mediaeval to Late Stuart and Pre-Elizabethan Hallmarks on English Plate, London, 1952, vol. I, pp. 33-35).
As the acorn-knop is an international style of spoon, it is difficult to determine the origin of one based on design alone. The existence of marked examples demonstrate that this form was widespread in France. For example, an acorn-knop spoon marked for Paris, circa 1300 (see lot 435) and a late 13th/early 14th century pair marked for Rouen, now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum (How, op. cit. pp. 36-37, pl. I). Other marked examples include a 14th century example marked for Famagusta in Cyprus (J. Emery, European Spoons Before 1700, Edinburgh, 1976, p. 57, fig. 30) and another of circa 1300 with the 'Grecian' leopards head mark (The Benson Collection, Christie's, London, 4 June 2013, lot 308, £11,875).
A group of spoons known as the 'Rother Group' are an invaluable tool for dating English examples of acorn-knop spoons. The Rother River, after which the spoons are named, changed its course during the winter of 1286-1287 when a great storm blocked its exit to the sea. It is believed that the spoons were in the river prior to this geographical phenomenon. Spoons from this important group include three in the Benson Collection (Christie's, London, 4 June 2013, lots 309, 310 and 311, £20,000; £22,500 and £22,500 respectively) and one in the collection of the British Museum (1965.0207.1).
The significance of spoons generally, and the acorn-knop specifically, to their Medieval owners is hinted at by their appearance in wills. Timothy Kent, in his introduction The Benson Collection of Early Silver Spoons cites the will of John de Halegh, proved in 1351, where he bequeathed twelve spoons with ‘akernes' to Thomas Taillour. John Botillor, a draper leaves his wife Isabella 'twelve best spoons with gilt acorns,' (D. J. E. Constable, The Benson Collection of Early Silver Spoons, Golden Cross, 2012, p.3).
George Kemp, 1st Baron Rochdale
George Kemp, later 1st Baron Rochdale (1866-1945) was born in Rochdale, Lancashire and educated at Shrewsbury, Balliol College Oxford and Trinity College Cambridge. He is known as much for his work as Chairman of the flannel manufacturer Kelsall and Kemp as for playing first-class cricket for Lancashire. He was also M.P. for Heywood and later Manchester North West. During his first stint at Westminster he acted as Private Secretary to both William Ellison-Macartney and to the Admiralty, resigning both posts in January 1900 to serve in the Second Boer War, for which he was knighted in 1909, later raised to the peerage as Baron Rochdale in 1913.
Kemp was also an avid collector of silver and a generous lender to the many exhibitions in the first half of the 20th century including the Park Lane exhibition of 1929. Among the pieces from his collection was an Elizabeth I parcel-gilt silver tankard of 1587 (Christie’s, New York, 16 April 1999, lot 244) and a Henry VIII lion sejant spoon (recorded How, op. cit. p. 256).