There are serious collectors of all things. Then those who have gotten to grips with their area of interest and finally those who are just begining. My rambling's are really aimed at the beginner!
Collecting items such as caddy spoons opens up much to the collector. As silver caddy spoons bears hallmarks (some continental silver is not hallmarked) which consists in the UK of a date mark. A town where the spoon was assayed (tested to ensure it had the minimum amount of silver to be called so) mark. In the majority of cases a makers mark and sometimes a duty mark. An example is shown here. From left to right the marks shown are the duty mark, in this case Queen Victoria, the date letter for 1859, the Lion Passant and the Leopards Head for the city of London. This information is found in quite a few books on silver and gold hallmark's. One useful and easy to use guide is Jackson's Hallmarks Pocket Edition edited by Ian Pickford ISBN 1 85149 169 4 for the paperback edition (more than adequate for beginning a collection) or hardback ISBN 1 85149 128 7. Both are available from Amazon amongst others. The hardback is more comprehensive and a considerable sized book! but expensive to start with. Best to by the pocket version (which won't fit in any pocket of mine!!!!). Now you can decipher the code you ought to consider how you are going to collect. For instance you may only want to collect silver from the nearest assy office to you. For example, London, Birmingham, Chester, Exeter, Newcastle, Norwich, Sheffield, York, Dublin, Edinburgh, or Glasgow. There are other towns who did mark silver at some time in the past but they are harder to find and really not important to you in starting a collection.
Some of my most experienced collectors collect say the spoons made by the Birmingham 5 (Most important collector's (so some say) from Birmingham who made caddy spoons) Others collect by silversmiths wherever they were assayed (there was a famous Birmingham spoon maker who also worked in London and you will find his work assayed in both Cities for different periods). You may consider to collect by type. For example caddy spoons with shell bowls or caddy spoons with ivory handles. You may want to collect by date and have a spoon for each year in 1800 for example. There are those that combine collections so they started with say ivory handles the expanded to spoons from a provincial town like Exeter. When and/or if you really get serious you can try and replicate a page or section of John Norie's book on caddy spoons. This is at the top end of collecting! There are many other combinations but it doesn't matter. It is what you want to do thats important.
Then there is the history of the time the spoon was assayed. Tea was a formal ritual in the late 18th through to the very early 20th century. The value of tea was considerable with the price so high that only the wealthy drank it. It was even kept under lock and key in lovely tea caddies. Because of the substantial cost of tea then only something special could be used to measure it out. hence the introduction of wonderful caddy spoons. Tea was also a time of conversation. In the early 19th Century imagine the talk of Nelson's escapades (Lets keep lady Hamilton out of it ...please). What did your spoon witness...if only they could talk. Tea also had its part in the birth of a super power. Boston is the place and taxes the debate (well not so much talking as throwing the stuff overboard). So when you have bought your spoon why not try and find out what was happening in the world at that time? It really is fascinating.
It won't be just buying your spoons that will occur as you become more experienced. You will seek to improve on your collection by selling that nice 1800 caddy spoon to finance a replacement but of better quality or provenance. When it comes to money then research is what it is all about. Prices vary so much. Dealers generally price their items on what they paid for the spoon plus their profit. The size of profit also varies between what overheads a dealer has. If the dealer is working from home on his or her laptop then the price should reflect that. A bond street dealer has to pay his/her rates, rent etc. Looking and chasing down spoons though is part of the fun (did I say fun?) of collecting. Some collectors set a monthly spend limit (then exceed it!) but whatever your spend size one thing is sure, IF you buy the right spoon then overtime your collection should gain in value.
The condition of a spoon is vital in its pricing. If it has a repair (usually around the handle) that will affect its value considerably. But if you haven't got that particular spoon in your collection and you can't find another then as long as you pay the right price it shouldn't deter you from buying it. Later on if a better spoon is found then you can resell the damaged one. Some repairs though are of superb quality and even dealers can be fooled. One tip is to always examine the handle area and breath on it if you suspect a possible repair. You should then be able to see the differing metals used under the area where your breath has condensed. Dings and dents are also to be seen in spoons BUT you must remember that a 200 year old spoon will have been used and thrown in drawers etc. in its time. It is NOT a brand new item. That said because of their value many were carefully looked after and are in a condition that can only be described as exceptional. These spoons do exist and are not rare.
One such dealer (myself) sells on ebay and also my own website silvercaddyspoon.com the internet as well as Ebay you should find what you are looking for....eventually.
To Do List
: Learn to read what the hallmarks mean
: Think about what spoon you want to collect
: Keep good records including price and where bought as well as spoon details
: Look at condition and bear it in mind but judge it against the value to your collection
: Think about or research the history of the period for each spoon
: Listen to advice but remember its your collection (and your money!) Do your own thing.
: Enjoy collecting, if its becoming a chore give it up!
To summarise, learn how to read the silver marks. Think about what style of collecting you want to concentrate on first. Keep records of what spoons cost and the history periods they were used in. Bear in mind condition but don't worry too much in your early days as long as you pay a reasonable price because of condition, And don't forget, there are NO RULES you do what you want, its your money and your collection. You can read advice like that above but you can do your own thing! happy hunting.