A More Detailed Look at His Early Hallmarks

by Phyllis Goddard

In 1931, William Spratling combined his architectural background, his appreciation of Mexico's pre-Columbian past, his awareness of Taxco's history as a silver center, and his immediate need for an income into what was to become a new idiom for 20th century silver.

Bracelet
Silver, 3/4" high


Initially, in June 1931, Artemio Navarrete was the sole silversmith creating Spratling's designs, and he produced those silver jewelry items at Spratling's kitchen table.  Spratling, a silver designer but not a silversmith, created his successful new business model based on an apprentice system.  By 1933 Spratling had two maestros and more than a dozen apprentices. It was apparent that Las Delicias, Spratling's workshop and retail store, was a rapidly growing business with a clientele that eagerly purchased Spratling's designs. 

Necklace
Silver, 17-1/2"

In his autobiography, Spratling wrote, "Worthwhile silver requires that it be identified with the name and reputation of its maker."  Spratling's earliest silver jewelry designs were stamped with a hallmark that replicated the brand he used for his horses.  Just a few years later, circa 1933, Spratling developed the structure of a hallmarking format that he followed until his death in 1967.

 WS Print Brand: Primary mark circa 1931-1933

Button
Silver, 1-1/2" diameter

Hallmarks have traditionally been used on precious metals to indicate fineness or quality of the metal.  When collectors talk about "Mexican silver hallmarks" the phrase more generally refers to the identifying stamp of a designer or silversmith.

 


Spratling's format consisted of a primary hallmark that included Spratling's name or initials. 

WS Print: Primary mark circa 1933-1938


WS Print Later: Primary mark
 circa 1939

WS Print Circle: Primary mark circa 1940-1946

A secondary hallmark identified the place of Spratling's taller (workshop.) - Taxco or Taxco Mexico, or Made in Mexico. 

Taxco Mexico: Secondary mark
 circa 1933-1939

Taxco: Secondary mark
 circa 1933-1939

Made in Mexico: Secondary mark circa 1942

The tertiary hallmark gave information about the silver content of that specific item (925, 980, Spratling Silver, Sterling, an eagle mark).  An other hallmark, if used, provided additional information specific to that design.  Each of these hallmarks (primary, secondary, tertiary and other) is defined by the kind of information provided and has no relation to where it was placed on the silver object. 

925: Tertiary mark
 circa 1933-1940

980: Tertiary mark
 circa 1933-1940

Spratling Silver: Tertiary mark
 circa 1940-1944

Sterling: Tertiary mark
 circa 1944-1946

Spratling insisted that all items that left his workshop should be marked with his primary hallmark (name or initials) of that particular time period.  If there was sufficient flat space on the item for a tertiary hallmark (silver content) that too was included.  During Spratling's earliest years, secondary hallmarks (indicating place) were used.  The various hallmarks changed throughout Spratling's thirty-six year silver designing career. After much research  it is possible for us to determine which specific hallmarks - and combinations of hallmarks - were used in each of Spratling's design periods.

Pin, Silver
 2-1/2" x 2-1/8"

Spratling changed the basic design of his primary hallmark nine times between 1931 (when he began to design silver) until 1967 (when he died).  Each primary hallmark was used during a specific date range; through our research we have been able to correlate the type of design Spratling generally used in each time range and which primary hallmark we should expect to find on those designs.

Pin, Silver
 2-1/2" x 2-1/16"  

     

Necklace
Silver,  4-3/8" x 9" + 6-1/2" chain

Unlike the work of many Mexican designers, Spratling's designs can be divided into three specific chronological periods. Spratling's First Design Period began in 1931 when he launched his silver designing "experiment"  and ended in 1946 when Spratling y Artesanos declared bankruptcy.  Spratling resigned in July 1945 from the silver company he created.  Except for approximately sixty designs he supplied to his former company by the end of 1945, he did not again design silver until 1949.

(All of the preceding photos of jewelry are examples from Spratling's First Design Period)


The Second Design Period began in 1949 with the 200 prototype models that Spratling designed for the U.S. Department of the Interior.  In late 1948, Spratling signed a contract with the Department of Interior that charged him with the task of creating a program that would combine Alaskan materials, Alaskan design traditions, and Alaskan artisans.  The goal of this program was to create quality Alaskan art objects using indigenous Alaskan materials and, more importantly, to create employment for Alaskan natives.  Although the program never extended beyond the prototype models and the training of seven Alaskan young men, this Alaskan experience had a significant impact on Spratling's future silver designs.  

Bracelet
Silver, Tortoise Shell
1-3/4" high


Necklace
Silver, Azur-malachite
  pendant 3-1/4" + 18"

 

Bracelet
Silver, Tortoise Shell
1" high

During this same time (1949) Spratling signed a contract with Conquistador, a large silver factory in Mexico City that agreed to produce and market designs that Spratling would create.  These designs were similar in feeling to many of Spratling's Alaskan models, but were produced in materials indigenous to Mexico.  The contract was amended several times, and in November 1950, Spratling had his attorney notify Conquistador that because of Conquistador's failure to meet agreed upon terms, their contract was to be cancelled. 
(The photos of jewelry directly above are examples from Spratling's Second 
Design Period)


The Third Design Period began in 1951 when Spratling registered a new workshop, William Spratling S.A. de C.V.  Designs continued to reflect elements of Spratling's Alaskan experience. Spratling's designs also became more sculptural and depended on contrasting materials or light and shadow for emphasis.  This last design period ended with Spratling's death in 1967.

Pin
Silver, Tortoise shell
3-1/2" x 2-7/8"

Necklace
Silver, Obsidian
15-1/4"


Buckle
Silver, Azur-malachite
1-7/8" x 2-7/8"

(The photos of jewelry directly above are examples from Spratling's Third 
Design Period)

Each of these design periods bears a unique set of hallmarks and identifiable design characteristics.  Specific materials were more commonly identified with each period as well. 
Much of the fun in collecting anything is enhanced by our ability to learn all we can.  It is also increasingly important to rely on all the tools we have when evaluating the desirability or authenticity of any particular item.  No longer can we rely only on hallmarks.  We must make sure that the hallmarks are appropriate to design, materials used, construction, patina, and evidence of usage.
The hallmarks from Spratling's First Design Period (1931 - 1946) are the ones that we see most often because this period includes the years of Spratling's greatest productivity.  Circa 1944 Spratling had more than 400 workers and he was still unable to keep up with orders.
Spratling's earliest silver designs (circa 1931 - 1933) were stamped with a primary hallmark that replicated the brand that Spratling used for his horses.  No examples have been seen in which this WS Print Brand mark was used with any other hallmark.  

       
   

Circa 1933 Spratling implemented the system of primary, secondary, tertiary, and other hallmarks mentioned earlier.  The primary mark that Spratling began to use circa 1933 was the WS Print mark, and he accompanied that mark (when there was sufficient flat space) with a secondary mark Taxco or Taxco Mexico, and a tertiary mark, 925 or 980.

 

 


The WS Print hallmark stamp was created specifically for Spratling.  The other marks he used during those years were "generic" stamps that could be purchased by anyone.  We often see a 925 or 980 hallmark with identical details on silver items from other workshops or silversmiths.  We must remember that it is the primary hallmark that identifies Spratling as the designer.
Spratling wrote that 980 silver was preferable for jewelry because it looked better against a woman's skin and tarnished less.  That and its increased malleability were probably the reasons that Spratling generally used 980 silver for jewelry during this period. 925 silver, because of its greater strength, was generally used for household objects.  Circa 1933 - 1940, we commonly find Spratling's jewelry and tea strainers with a tertiary mark of 980.  During the same years, household objects were commonly stamped with the tertiary mark, 925.

      

Designs of this period were generally reminiscent of ranch life (rope elements, balls, etc.) or were design components taken directly from pre-Columbian clay seals or pictures from the pre-Hispanic codices.   Bold designs were created by flat chasing techniques that created a carved, three-dimensional effect.   Other designs were created by repoussage. The earliest designs were made of silver only or silver combined with copper or bronze.  Rosewood was used extensively for handles, boxes, and as bases for objects.

Necklace
Silver
 3-5/8" x 3" + 16" chain

 

Pin
Silver, Copper
2-3/8" diameter

As in all periods, Spratling designed and produced far more jewelry designs than household objects.  Spratling's first wholesale catalog (issued in 1938) included 259 specific designs.  69% were jewelry items.  The objects in addition to jewelry that were included in that catalogue were knives, spoons, salt dishes, candlesticks, cigarette boxes, bill clips, vegetable bowls, ashtrays, goblets, trays, sugar and creamers, vases, pitchers, and tea strainers.
By 1939 Spratling's primary hallmark stamps needed to be replaced. The die maker modified the WS Print mark slightly by eliminating the serif  on the W as well as modifying other details. This is the mark we refer to as WS Print Later.  Secondary and tertiary marks remained the same as those used with the WS Print hallmark.  Although Spratling introduced new designs constantly, he continued to produce most of the older ones as well.  The new designs were also based on pre-Columbian elements and Spratling began to combine other materials with silver.  Turquoise and amethyst were the "new" materials most often used.


Bracelet
Silver, Amethyst
 1-7/8" high

Collection of
 Ronald A. Belkin

 

Spratling was a skilled marketing man - ahead of his time.  He realized that by capitalizing on the name "Spratling Silver," - a name that by 1940 was recognized as denoting quality silver and quality design - he could more effectively compete with other silversmiths who were starting their silver careers in Taxco.  So in 1940, Spratling redesigned both his primary and tertiary hallmarks to include the name "Spratling" rather than just initials.

    

The new primary hallmark, WS Print Circle, was introduced in 1940 and replaced the primary mark WS Print Later.  WS Print Circle included Spratling's incised initials "WS" and also said "Spratling Made in Mexico" in raised letters around the perimeter of the mark.  No secondary mark was needed.  For several months, Spratling continued to use the tertiary marks 925 and 980 with this new WS Print Circle mark.  By late 1940, he introduced the tertiary mark, Spratling Silver: an oval cartouche that was used in place of 925 and 980.  Before the end of 1940 each piece of silver that left Spratling's taller (workshop) was marked with Spratling's actual name at least once, and most often twice.

Circa 1942 Spratling also used a secondary hallmark, Made in Mexico, often in combination with the tertiary Spratling Silver mark.  The Made in Mexico mark appears on some designs introduced circa 1942, but apparently was not used for very long.  There have been no examples found on designs introduced circa 1944 or later. 

During the early war years, Spratling introduced a design he called "Continental Solidarity." This motif depicted an applied gilded map of North and South America over which were two clasped hands.  The patriotic design was used for a lapel pin, cuff links, a standard pin, and a wall plaque.  In each instance, the design also bore an "other" mark, Reg. 12778. 

Cufflinks
Silver, Copper, 5/8"

Many things were happening in Spratling's taller in 1944.  In an effort to keep up with the overwhelming numbers of orders for Spratling Silver, Spratling purchased and renovated La Florida, a huge complex on the northern edge of Taxco.  To raise capital for the renovation, additional equipment, and ongoing expansion costs, Spratling sold 82% of his company to a group of partners.  In 1944 Montgomery Ward, one of Spratling's large retail customers, first wrote to Spratling and informed him that they had filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission because, although Spratling's jewelry tested higher that the sterling standard of 925 parts of silver per thousand, it was not 980 silver.  The hallmark "Spratling Silver" inferred that Spratling's jewelry was of 980 quality and household objects were of 925 quality. 

This was probably the most significant reason that Spratling dropped the usage of the oval tertiary mark Spratling Silver circa 1944, and began to use the tertiary mark Sterling instead.  (Each of the designs Spratling introduced in 1944 and 1945 has been found only with the primary WS Print Circle mark and the tertiary mark Sterling. 

   

Examples of designs introduced prior to 1944 that continued to be made at La Florida are found with either the tertiary mark Spratling Silver (circa 1940-1944) or the Sterling mark (circa 1944-1946).

Without Spratling's knowledge, his partners sold controlling interest in Spratling y Artesanos to Russell Maguire in June 1945.  Spratling immediately resigned from the company he had created although he did agree to provide a group of new designs in the coming months.  Spratling moved to acreage he had purchased earlier south of Taxco, and "retired" from the silver business.
This brief overview of First Design Period hallmarks should underscore that these early design examples based on ranch motifs or bold pre-Columbian elements are different in their design ethic than Spratling's post 1949 designs.  Spratling did not continue to make these early designs (with very few exceptions) in any later period. 
 

Bracelet
Silver, 1-1/4" high

Research has shown that Spratling's Second and Third Design Periods are equally as definitive as the First Design Period discussed here.  As we collect more data and as more collectors offer to share their information we will continue to refine and add to this research. The online Spratling reference website, www.SpratlingSilver.com is updated regularly with new information as we receive and analyze it.  A new book, Spratling Silver: A Field Guide provides information and many photographs for each design period, as well as a section on authenticity issues, and a chapter that discusses the care of Spratling silver. This information represents only a beginning - a foundation on which we will continue to build.

________________________________________________

Phyllis Goddard is a renowned expert on the works of William Spratling. She is the owner of the Spratling Silver reference website www.spratlingsilver.com

Ms. Goddard is the author of the essay, "William Spratling:  His Hallmarks and Stylistic Development," included in catalog for the current exhibit,  Maestros de Plata, William Spratling and the Mexican Silver Renaissance.

Her new book, Spratling Silver:  A Field Guide, is available now at 
www.spratlingsilver.com


Article by Phyllis Goddard
Photographs courtesy of Phyllis Goddard
Web design by Marbeth Schon
 Copyright 2003 Modern Silver Magazine

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