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Albert Coles Fish Serving Set - Seeking More Information

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Posted 6 years ago

(3 items)

I recently became the owner of this set when a relative passed on recently. I know it's Albert Coles and I heard it's the Cattail and Dolphin Pattern on the Handles. What I would love to find out is what the pattern on the face of the knife is. Also what I found odd is only the knife has maker and hallmarks, the fork has none such markings. I would love to know if that's common? Also if anyone has any information about anything regarding this set I would greatly appreciate hearing it.

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  1. miKKoChristmas11 miKKoChristmas11, 6 years ago
    Magnificent! My heart skipped a beat when I saw this. These are for serving fish. Antique American by a storied American silversmith. Firm founded in New York by Albert Coles 1835; Albert Coles & Co., successors; sold to Montgomery & Co in 1877, and to George Shiebler in 1883. Very scarce to rare ensemble. I don't remember ever seeing this set before. It is quite extraordinary. This set was probably sold cased ensemble, and that might account for the fork not bearing hallmarks. American silver of this period was not as consistently or as well marked as English silver. I think that this is probably coin silver.

    I would be surprised to find that an entire wardrobe of silver had been made in a pattern featuring both cattails and dolphins. I would be surprised if the name of this pattern were 'cattails and dolphin'. I think that 'cattails and dolphin' is perhaps more likely a description of these serving pieces. One often encounters dolphins in fish servers. I wouldn't be surprised to find an Albert Coles 'cattails' pattern without dolphins.

    You might find in a large, good library near you a marvelous contemporary work by Dr. Charles Lane Venable, "Silver in America, 1840-1940: a century of splendor". If your set is not in his work, you might try contacting him about them. As for the pattern on the fish knife blade, in my personal opinion - and I am not a silver scholar, just an admirer - I think it probable that it would not be a named pattern. I do remember that Dr. Charles Venable that featured some similar pieces. He is a careful scholar, and I don't remember him naming the patterns in the fish slice blades.

    Best wishes for success! I'll be checking back on the progress of this string - if I can stand the excitement. Can't wait to hear what the silver experts say when they weigh in.



  2. pappas1322 pappas1322, 6 years ago
    Thank you so much miKKoChristmas11 for all info and research links/material you provided for me. I really appreciate it and share your excitement for this piece. I have contacted a few people via email and am now waiting for responses.

    I am just as interested in the monogram on the handles. However I assume that would be far harder to get information regarding its original owner. It's signed Lt. John Phillips. There happened to be a Civil War soldier named Lt. John Phillips from Massachusetts. Being this piece is roughly dated around then and was purchased from a yard sale in Massachusetts, I would be thrilled if there was a connection. I am not sure how I could ever confirm that though.

    Again, thank you so much for your help and I will be seeking out the book you mentioned as well.
  3. miKKoChristmas11 miKKoChristmas11, 6 years ago
    Hi, pappas1322. I am really excited about these. Finding one of these would be for me like finding authentic Paul Revere silver. Coles was one of the best, and this is fabulous. I'll say one more thing about its quality - if I were young and also materialistic and also had excellent taste, if two suitors asked for my hand and I liked them equally, and one had a Tiffany 5 - carat perfect diamond ring and the other these fish serving pieces, I'd choose the man with the silver. (Just a joke example, but I would really prefer these to a diamond.) These are very special. Please don't sell them, and if you ever do sell them, I recommend having a professional broker them for you. The are worth a great deal of money. I am shocked that your relative found them at a yard sale!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Now, about that book. It's hard to find because it's so expensive. I had to get it through interlibrary loan. It made a lot of waves - a most excellent work. I think I remember seeing a fish serving ensemble by Coles in the book, but to my recollection, the handles were flat, not cast as yours are. They were decorated in a fashion very similar to yours. Perhaps the slice blade had the same design? I have been thinking about the pattern on the fish slice blade. Did you mean 'named scene' instead of pattern? In fine porcelain, there is such a thing as a 'named scene'. I haven't come across it on a fish slice blade, but Dr. Venable would know for sure. I urge you to contact him. I think that he'd love your pieces.

    Re Dr. Venable's book: The entire book is full of extraordinary serving pieces. Elaborate fish slices, ice cream scythes, all manner of extraordinary pieces. Perhaps the research librarian at your local library could help you find contact info on him. FYI, he had some association with a Dallas, TX museum.

    I don't know how you'd research the Lt. John Phillips connection. Geneology.com or Fold-3 or the like might enable you to find him, but linking him to this silver is another thing altogether. However, because Coles was a storied firm, there might be extant records for them, and there is a possibility that you might uncover the original purchase records, though it would take a specialist sleuth, I think, to do this. I seem to remember that Coles silver was sold in jewelry stores. If I remember correctly, the Coles fish ensemble in Dr. Venable's book was sold at Philadelphia's Bailey,Banks & Biddle. BB&B has changed a lot since then, but you might call them and ask them about Lt. Phillips. It's a long shot, but it's worth a call. Your best bet, I think, would be to talk to Dr. Venable. Regards, miKKo

  4. miKKoChristmas11 miKKoChristmas11, 6 years ago
    Hi, I have been in a cloud the last few days because of health reasons, but I am reasonably clear headed this morning, and have been thinking about your silver and the Lt. Phillips issue. So, one last post…

    I really have few intelligent opinions about how to link the silver to your officer, but it seems to me that you might search for a trace of a presentation. It seems unlikely that a man would order for himself a grand piece of silver with the inscription "Lt. John Phillips". It sounds like an inscription more consistent with a presentation to a man in recognition for something - his service, his leadership, etc. (By the way, I cannot see the inscription well enough to read it.) The fish servers in Venable’s book, the ones I thought might well be Coles' work, were presented to someone's wife, I seem to remember (but maybe not) on Valentine's Day (maybe not). The server ensemble would have been a magnificent, most uncommon present. They, and yours, would be suitable for a grand occasion – well suited for a presentation and a related inscription.

    I have just finished reading an interesting book written by Lisa Tracy, daughter of a former Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute, Colonel (?) Charles Kilbourne. In this book, "Objects of Our Affection", Tracy recounts an amusing silver anecdote. Her mother had just become engaged to her father, and her future mother-in-law presumed to order a silver wardrobe for the couple in the Stieff Kirk "King" pattern, and further committed the terrible offense of presuming to engrave the couple's initials on the pieces, instead of the bride's. It seems that her mother never quite forgot the offense. Her mother cherished a wedding gift from friend/family that bore the initials of the bride's maiden name. My point in relating this is that there will be protocols for engraving silver in general, and protocols for the presentation of silver to a military man. These protocols might well vary over time and place, but they should be relatively stable and identifiable within a given timeframe and social context. Suppose you found a likely Lt. John Phillips in the Boston area. Then I'd start by contacting the Boston Historical Society (http://rfi.bostonhistory.org/bostoncoll/) and ask them for their suggestions in linking the silver to Lt. Phillips. There might well be better ways and better starts....

    About the pattern on the blade, I meant that I don't know of any silver that is denominated by both the pattern on the handle, and the pattern on the blade. I think it likely that the pattern on the blade will be a description, and would not have been listed in a catalogue specifically as a named pattern. That doesn't mean that I think it unlikely that both: it might have had a unique description, and that this description might have been included in the 'catalogue' following the proper ('handle') pattern name. I look forward to learning the results of your inquiries. I am always eager to learn.

    Finally, about the 'handle' pattern name, I do find a Coles pattern wherein the primary motif is the Dolphin, but I haven't as yet found a "Cattails and Dolphin" (or variant combination) official pattern denomination yet. Doesn't mean that it couldn't exist. Indeed, I tried a brief search on Google and eBay for it this morning. I found traces that indicated that some things were sold under such a/or like denomination/description, but I couldn't retrieve either the images or the original listings during my brief search. Perhaps you could. That would not resolve the issue of the proper 'handle' name, however, it would lend value to the assumption that there might well be an officially denominated 'Cattails and Dolphin' (or other variant combination) pattern.

    Interestingly, there is a Coles 'Dolphins' piece, an ice cream knife, on eBay now. No reference to Cattails and no appearance of cattail motif. The ice cream knife has a pattern on the blade very similar to that on your fish slice blade, but not exactly the same. I have seen this morning a number of Coles' blades with similar scenes.

    We find the Dolphin 'pattern' also in a fish server ensemble:


    One last note. The prices on these pieces might have declined from what I had observed in searches in years past. I don't collect silver. I don't aspire to own anything nicer than did my grandmother or mother, and my grandmother's wardrobe was of common silverplate, in a very simple pattern that is not popular. If a thief broke into my house, he might leave me a message like "Thanks a lot for wasting my time, lady! You're really shabby - here's a hundred bucks - go buy yourself something nice." But I really enjoy looking at silver, and your pieces are nothing short of fabulous. I mention the pricing because I don’t want to lead you astray. These are very valuable, but I think that despite the dramatic rise in the price of silver of late, the commercial value of these pieces might have declined since I first started studying them.
  5. miKKoChristmas11 miKKoChristmas11, 6 years ago
    Hi. The author Lisa Tracy is the granddaughter of Charles Kilbourne, former VMI Superintendent, and the daughter of Max Tracy.


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