The Collector’s Minute: Stag Handled Carving Sets

Items we see a great deal of that is often described as “having been in the family for five generations” are stag/bone-handled carving or cutlery sets. This, I suppose, is a result of people associating antler or bone handles with antiquity, their age increased by family tales about the origins of these pieces revisited every year at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

After two generations, usually, after the people who originally received the sets as wedding gifts have passed on, the family lore often takes on a life of its own, leaving only half-remembered stories, the blank spots filled in with speculation. Contrary to most of these stories, very few of these sets we see today actually predate the 1870s. Stag- & bone-handled cutlery was popular from the mid-Victorian period through to about World War One, (1870-1918), but were made well into the 1930s.

A five-piece carving set made and signed by Henckels and features stag handles with ornate Sterling mounts. The blades are steel and signed “Henckels Twin Works, Solingen, Germany.” In excellent condition, this set sold for $425 in 2008.

A stag-handled carving set of carving knife, fork and sharpener with sterling silver detail. The satin lining is imprinted “By Royal Appointment, Harrison Bros. & Howson, Sheffield, England, Cutlers to His Majesty.” Due to numbers of these kinds of sets available, this particular package sold for a mere $122 in 2008.

Most of these carving sets are English or German examples made after 1900, and it’s relatively easy to tell if you have a 19th- or 20th-century set by the markings, particularly if there is a country of origin marking, such as “Germany” or “England” stamped anywhere on each piece. Country of origin marks were not much in use until 1891, the year after the McKinley Tariff Act was passed in the U.S. The McKinley Act of 1890 limited all imports into the USA to be those marked with their country of origin and, as the American market being the fastest growing at the time, most exporters quickly adapted to the new law. The pre-1891 sets tend to have local address markings, indicating the city, the largest centers being “Sheffield” for English sets and “Solingen” for German examples.

This set is of a late Victorian vintage, with sterling silver mounts by the British maker Francis Newton & Son, which operated in Sheffield from 1838 until circa 1920.

Currently, values still tend to be rather modest for these Stag handled sets like these, largely due to large numbers of them coming from Estate clearances of the World War Two generation flooding the market. In most cases, sets in good condition now sell in the $225- $300 range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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