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Old Labels & Tags

This article was written with the kind assistance of David Hall
As you look for pieces to buy you will find a number of items with various kinds of old labels and tags attached to them. The information given can help greatly in identifying the piece and discovering its history and provenance. Consequently having some understanding of what type label or tag is visible will assist considerably. Some such labels can be very misleading either because the original information recorded was incorrect or because knowledge and understanding has increased since the label was written. If one considers the nature of some of the labelling used by vendors on say Ebay, the risks will soon become apparent. For example the term charger should properly be attached to a large dish or plate historically of more than 18 inches in diameter, a nine-inch plate is not a charger. Likewise a touch mark is the particular mark of an individual master pewterer and ownership marks, mock hallmarks, official capacity verification marks etc., are not touch marks.
Under the base of this early baluster measure the piece carries a number of different labels including top right what may have been a dealer’s label, top left is probably a collector’s number, bottom right is a Museum accession number and in the centre a typed label giving something of the history of the piece.

Below I will try and deal with some of the commonest type of marks, labels or tags of this kind that the collector may come across, under the following headings

Auctioneers Labels

Most collectors and dealers after making a purchase at an auction remove the labelling but it does not always happen.
A modern auctioneers label from Bonhams, whose Chester Sale Room who run regular specialist pewter sales, it gives the lot number, 100, and the sale number 14614. This would make it possible to trace the item back to the auction concerned.
Another Bonham’s label, this time stuck on rather than a tag, above an owner or dealer’s label that the auctioneers have not removed. What this latter label says can be checked against the auctioneer’s description in the catalogue.
Larger auctioneers like Bonhams also place other identifying numbers on pieces for their own purposes. Sometimes when the actual lot number has been removed these other numbers are left, as in this case under the base.
Another auction tag, from a different auctioneers. Gardiner Houlgate’s, pewter sale.

Collectors Labels & Tags

Written on theback of a broad rim dish in Indian ink are the number ‘132’ and the name ‘MINCHIN’. Cyril (John) Minchin, who died in 1985, was a famous collector who as a young man was a friend of Howard Cotterell. This tells nothing beyond that the piece was at one time in his collection.
This handwritten label indicates the piece, a bumpy bottom dish, came out of the collection of another well-known collector, Frank Holt, who died in 1998. It suggests identification for the nearby touch mark that cannot now be justified from what remains of the touch. Interestingly the dish is probably older than Frank Holt believed. Still it illustrates the need to be careful about what such labels say!
The typed ownership label from under the base of a baluster measure, in a famous corporate collection. It is far more comprehensive and gives an inventory number, a catalogue number, details of purchase and a description of the item. If you were offered an item labelled in this manner you might well want reassurance that it was being legitimately sold.
A printed label from the famous ‘Little’ collection a large part of which was sold at Christies, King Street, London, on the 1st May, 2007. It gives no information other than the piece was in the Little Collection.

Dealers Labels & Tags

This label is from inside a baluster measure and is accompanied by a receipt indicating the item was bought from a prominent Cotswold dealer in the 1980s. The label is large but simple and without the receipt would not show who had sold it.
A handwritten and similarly anonymous label, found inside a cube inkwell. For some reason it has been torn up and then recovered and put back together. The item was described in the label as Irish, there is, however, no obvious reason why it should be. The attached ‘Made in England’ label suggests in may have been exported. It does look odd on an item presumed to be Irish!

Labels Found on Fakes & Perhaps Intended to Deceive, Or Add Value?

The tag on a half-pint truncated cone pot with an interesting inscription and a Borough of St Marylebone verification mark from the mid 19th century. In addition there is a much larger Crowned ‘VR’ mark purporting to be a Victorian verification mark which clearly it is not. This faked item was sold through a Chicago store ‘Marshall Fields’ sometime after the Second World War and before the early 1980s. Although sold in America it was supplied through a London dealer Richard Mundey, who labelled it (died 1990). The description is lengthy and rather florid for such a modest piece. At the time this was exported the St Marylebone verification was not securely identified so presumably the ‘VR’ mark was added to convince people it was Victorian and an antique, which could be imported into the US without payment of customs duty. The circa date given at the bottom of the tag may be slightly optimistic.
Another Mundey export this item was sold through a different US store, John Wanamaker’s. The label read originally ‘FINE OLD ENGLISH PEWTER CHEESE OR NUT PLATE. USED IN THE OLD GEORGE INN “LONDON”, IN THE EARLY VICTORIA REGINA PERIOD’. Frankly the item is a mid 20th century reproduction and it is most unlikely that the mid 19th century George Inn used anything like it. Today the label would be viewed as unacceptable under trade descriptions legislation, but little of that existed in the 1950/60s. Unlike the antique item above, no circa date is given for this piece.

Such pieces with labels as the supposed Mundey labels above are sought after by some collectors. This web site would like to see photos and details of any pieces carrying these labels. This particular character appears to have been very faithful to his typewriter and had a lyrical way with his descriptions.
A more modern dealer’s label from the early 1990s. When this was sold it was possible to argue, on the basis of published information, that this piece was Irish. That information has since been disputed and there is no longer any certainty where this was made, illustrating one of the dangers of relying on old labels. No price is given but the pound sign and three capital letters is probably a code telling the dealer instantly how much he paid for the piece.

Museum Marks

Nearly all respectable museums have accessions policy and accession registers. Once they agree to accept an item it is entered on to the accession register and given a distinctive number. In most of Europe including the British Isles museums are not allowed to or choose not to dispose of items by sale. Currently such policies seem to be under review in the UK and in some parts of North America disposing of items by sale has taken place in the past on some scale.

If you are offered a piece still bearing a museum accession label or number or a display label then you should seek some reassurance that the item is legitimately offered for sale.
A label now inside the piece but once used in a case when the item was on display. The number is the accession number and shows the item was accessed by the Museum in 1937 and was the fortieth piece so added in that year.
A more modern example from the National Museum of Ireland. This was accessed in 1998.

Certificates of Authenticity etc.

A certificate of authenticity issued by Robin Bellamy Ltd, a prominent dealership in the Cotswolds. Peter Hornsby, the then principal of the firm, was a highly respected specialist pewter dealer. He died in 2000 and the business no longer operates.
A similar certificate issued in 1932 by Howard Cotterell and the accompanying star mark that was stuck on the item authenticated. There can be no doubt that in his time Cotterell was the acknowledge expert on pewter from the British Isles and a man of integrity. After over seventy-five years the knowledge base has moved on and reliable though he was there may be errors in his certificates. When a piece has one of these star marks on it the value is likely to be enhanced. It is advisable therefore not to remove the mark. Sometimes the original certificates no longer accompany the start marked items.


Old labels, tags, certificates etc., can provide valuable information about a piece of antique pewter, its provenance and history, but as the examples above in many cases demonstrate they need to be initially viewed with caution and scepticism.