Made by Gilbert Kirkwood, it not only adds to our understanding of early Scottish spoons but of the work of this important early maker. This highlight in our August 2020 auction of Scottish Works of Art & Whisky achieved £26,250 incl premium.
This previously unrecorded Disc End spoon appears to be one of the earliest extant available to private hands. Although recorded from as early as c.1580 it is not until 1615 – 1616 with the survival of the Sir Andrew Noble pair of Disc Ends by George Crawford that any concretely datable examples are available to commerce.
Made by Gilbert Kirkwood it not only adds to our understanding of early Scottish spoons but of the work of this important early maker. Kirkwood is first recorded in the minutes of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths of The City of Edinburgh in 1598 when he is taken as apprentice by George Foulis. He is granted his freedom in 1609 and has an active career within the Incorporation acting as Quartermaster numerous times and Deacon in 1624.
He has what appears to have been a very successful career and his mark is recorded on no less than eight pairs of communion cups and various single examples. He is also recorded on at least one other Disc End spoon, dated 1611 (National Museums of Scotland Collection, see Silver: Made in Scotland item 3.33) and the earliest Scottish Slip top spoon of 1608 (Private Collection Mount Stuart, see Silver: Made in Scotland item 3.45).
The fact his career was so successful is not only seen through the surviving silver and what can be gleamed from his work and clients but by his ability to purchase Pilrig Estate. What would then have been a country estate removed from Edinburgh he set upon improvements and had built Pilrig House by 1638 (still standing today). His time here would be short as he died in 1645 during an outbreak of the plague in Edinburgh.
While most early Scottish spoon types follow closely known and comparable patterns, whether it is with English neighbours or further afield in mainland Europe, the Disc End is without doubt the most unique to Scotland. The only strong comparable comes from a very small group of York made spoons known as the 'Death Head' group.
It has been commented that some mainland European spoons bear resemblances to the Disc Ends and while this is an influencing factor in many areas of Scottish silver work it does not seem to follow in this example. The main types often compared with the Disc Ends are Norwegian examples with flower head terminals. However this is not perhaps a true comparison as the terminals are not flat discs and are more often of shaped outlines following that of the flower head. Since no Scottish spoon has a figural finial or terminal this seems a very tenuous connection and not a credible one for comparison.
The York 'Death Head' group which closely follows the basic outlines of Scottish Disc Ends are similar in many respects but deviates noticeably within the date range, the York examples appear to start after the end of the Disc End in Scotland, their date range being circa 1660 - 1670s. It is not only the date range which differentiates the two types but the decoration and original commission are extremely different. The York examples appear to have been made as christening spoons for the female members of the Strickland family. The Scottish being a standard pattern of its time.
The connection between these two very distinct groups of spoons is still a mystery and no real defining connection can be found. On the most basic of levels the Scottish Disc End gives the perfect canvas for the York design with the circular terminal offering space for the engraved skull / coat of arms and flat straight stem giving the space for mottos.
It can be safely assumed that the York examples were copied from an original, and earlier, Scottish spoon as the general points of comparison are too similar for coincidence.