SILVER CAKE BASKETS
Delicate silver cake baskets were originally produced by hand, until new technology led to them being mass produced from electroplate.
Decorative silver cake baskets were first used in the 17th century but it was not until well into the 18th century that they became common.
From the 1730s until the Victorian era, they were found only in grand houses and in the genteel establishments of the richer bourgeoisie but from the 1850s through to Edwardian times they graced the tables and sideboards of almost all middle-class households.
Although the majority of the baskets with attractive pierced decoration are called cake baskets it seems that in the 1 8th century they were used principally for serving bread and also for holding fruit.
Early 18th-century examples were circular or oval in shape with fixed handles at each end. Some of these were pierced and chased to look like the interwoven basketwork that was popular at that time.
By the 1750s, the hinged swing handle which spanned the basket had replaced fixed handles and this was to remain the most common feature of baskets until Edwardian times.
By about 1850, baskets with shallower dishes began to appear, often raised on a central stem. These were called cake baskets and probably did hold cake.
The delicate pierced decoration on 18thcentury baskets was hand-done by skilled craftsmen, making these items very expensive at the time (and extremely valuable now).
By the beginning of the 19th century, however, a steam-driven mechanical fly punch was able to stamp out regular patterns much more quickly.
With the introduction of electroplating in the mid-I 9th century, Sheffield and Birmingham manufacturers were able to produce huge quantities of attractive and reasonably priced baskets and it is these Victorian examples that survive in greatest numbers today.
Not all baskets had pierced work; many have simply chased (raised) or engraved decoration, both of which were easily achieved by mechanical means in the second half of the 19th century. Indeed, towards the end of the century, thousands of baskets were
mass produced simply by stamping them out of flat sheets of electroplate and attaching similarly produced handles to them.
Miniature cake baskets can often be found and these are often identified as sweetmeat baskets. These were certainly made in the 18th century but most of the examples seen today are pieces from Victorian epergnes (or centrepieces), which often consisted of a large central basket flanked by smaller baskets for holding sweets and nuts, or date from the early 20th century when manufacturers produced large quantities of such baskets, many in reproductions of 18th-century styles.
The large silver baskets were traditionally known as cake baskets, although originally they were thought to be used for serving bread or
fruit. The miniature baskets, often referred to as sweetmeat baskets, were used for serving sweets and nuts.
Silver cake baskets from the 18th century fetch fabulous prices and will only be found in the salerooms and with dealers in fine antique silver.
Hallmarked sterling silver pieces from Victorian, Edwardian and even later times are also relatively expensive. There are, however, many attractive mass-produced baskets in
electroplated silver from late Victorian and Edwardian times and these are more
Baskets in traditional styles continued to be made in the 1920s and 30s and, in fact, are still made today. These later examples can often be found in antiques markets, bric-a-brac and junk shops, jumble sales and in house clearance sales - largely because they don't appeal to modern taste and so are often disposed of.
CHECK THE HALLMARKS
If you're thinking of buying a piece in sterling silver, it is, of course, essential to
check the hallmark - all dealers in silver will happily show you the marks in their hallmarks reference books.
On early pieces with pierced decoration there is often a difficulty with dating since the baskets were hallmarked before the piercing work was carried out. As a result some of the marks may have been partially cut
away during piercing.
However, look for hallmarks on the base, or on one side; the handle, being a separate piece, should
Electroplated wares should be marked
EPNS and many will carry the name the maker. Major manufacturers such as Mappin & Webb and Elkington, for instance, always marked their wares.
Condition is important, particularly on pierced baskets which are very vulnerable to damage. Check for small missing pieces, for splits in pierced areas (or attempts to repair splits) and for sections that might have been replaced - these should be obvious since pierced work is very difficult to repair.
After about 1890, pierced work baskets became increasingly flimsy, so look at later examples very carefully. From the collector's point of view, a damaged pierced work basket, however attractive, is virtually worthless since it cannot be adequately repaired.
With solid baskets, especially electroplated pieces, check that the plating has not worn away in parts. Although items can be replated fairly easily, it is an additional expense and the results are never satisfactory.
On all baskets, check that the handle matches the dish (the hallmarks, for instance, should be the same) and that the hinge works smoothly. Any repairs to moveable parts are expensive and may devalue the basket.