Silver Sugar Sifter a Great Find, but Needs Work

This black piece of metal is actually sterling silver.

This black piece of metal is actually sterling silver.

Dear Helaine and Joe:

I am interested in the silver spoon strainer, which I “rescued” while digging in a waterfront site in Staten Island, N.Y., about 40 years ago. I have enclosed photographs, and as you can see, it has a hallmark. I have, unsuccessfully, tried to get some information on its origins. I hope you have better luck.


K. M.

Dear K. M.:

Yes, we have had better luck — but it was a very narrow thing because the photograph was very dark and details hard to see. Luckily we were able to discern the mark vaguely using a magnifying glass. A word description of the mark in the letter would have been very helpful.

What we think we saw was a “B” with a sword or dagger through it and the word “Sterling.” We were not completely sure about this because we thought the letter could also be a “D” with the sword piercing its middle and making it look something like a “B.”

Research, however, revealed the letter was indeed a “B,” and the mark belonged to the W. & S. Blackinton Company. It was founded in 1865 by the Blackinton brothers, who were originally in the gold jewelry business. One source says the company was founded in North Attleboro, Mass., and that the headquarters were moved to Meriden, Conn., after it was acquired by Raimond Silver Manufacturing Company in the early 1960s.

Blackinton’s first recorded sterling flatware patterns were initially made in 1900, and their last new design that we could find was introduced in 1950. Towle Silversmiths acquired the rights to some of Blackinton’s patterns.

The pattern on the piece in today’s question was introduced by Blackinton in 1900. This sugar sifter was made by them probably sometime in the first quarter of the 20th century. For a time Blackinton seems to have shifted their emphasis away from sterling flatware after they acquired the Ellmore Silver Company in 1938 and began manufacturing more silver-plated items.

We believe the design name for this piece is “Nautilus,” and it is not a pattern that is widely sought after on today’s market. (But Blackinton did make a wide variety of items in this flatware shape.) Aside from the regular knives, forks and spoons, “Nautilus” was also made in such forms as orange spoons (with bowls that look a bit like acorns), chocolate muddlers, ice cream forks, chipped beef forks, pierced almond spoons and sugar tongs, to name just a few.

This sugar sifter was a wonderful find, but its value depends very much on whether or not the black tarnish can be polished off leaving a normal-looking piece of flatware. No one wants a black piece of sterling silver unless the manufacturer intended it to be that way.

Please do not polish the piece (or any other piece of silver) too vigorously. It is critical that both the marks and the ridges and valleys of the design not be eroded by harsh abrasives or too much elbow grease. K. M. should use moderation, and if the piece will not come clean with reasonable effort it should be left alone. Retail value of this item in pristine condition is between $110 and $150.

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