Another £33,000 Paid Out for the Man who Collected Knives and Forks

The latest part of the Bill Brown collection of cutlery has taken more than £30,000 at auction, with just three lots scooping £7,300


The latest part of the Bill Brown collection of cutlery has taken more than £30,000 at auction, with just three lots scooping £7,300.

The bids bring the total raised by sales from the collection so far to well over the £500,000 mark.

Most notable has been the £485,000 paid to secure Brown’s massive historical archive for Museums Sheffield, thanks to Heritage Lottery and Art Fund grants.


These three Georgian leather cutlery cases made a combined total of £7,300 at our Autumn Country House Sale on Tuesday 12 September


The 1000 pieces in Museums Sheffield comprise just part of his collection, which spans the history of British cutlery and flatware as well as foreign pieces that had influenced British design.

Now, more than 60 years after spending 10 shillings on his first purchase – a c.1720 knife and fork from a Dutch travelling set – we continue to disperse his collection through our sales, including ancient bronze and iron knives as well as early 17th century forks with ivory handles carved in into detailed figures. The latest sale raised £33,660, and another tranche will appear in Jewellery, Watches & Silver sale on November 21.


Eight carved ivory figural cutlery handles, early 17th century, sold for £2,100 plus buyers premium


Each lot offered is priced in the low to middle hundreds of pounds, but their academic and historical value to serious collectors is difficult to overestimate, and some go on to make thousands, like the Georgian decorated leather cutlery case that took £3,600 at our September 12 Autumn Country House Sale.

The cutlery spans a period from ancient times to the early 20th century.

Brown, who trawled the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the continent in his quest for learning and rarities, eventually decided to rationalise his collection to help him focus on the history and development of British eating habits.

Having worked as a graphic designer, his chief interest was not dry, academic dating, but visual attributes – design, function and materials – and how these changed in tandem with habits and etiquette. One of his favourite pieces, now in a museum on the continent, was a child’s plastic spoon, designed with a train on the handle, to encourage an infant to open their mouth as the “choo choo” arrived.

In his introduction to British Cutlery – An Illustrated History of Design, Evolution and Use, edited by Peter Brown, he writes: “I could see trends which were not apparent before, such as the way the shape of the blade evolved, and the changes in constructional technique.” All of which, of course, helped in the dating and attribution of pieces.

Bill Brown’s passions extend well beyond cutlery. As a young man he was a very keen road racer (cycling), he was a keen bird watcher which probably started to assist his artwork. His biggest hobby is probably growing Bonsai trees. He is still the President of Bonsai Kai. He has won many medals for his Bonsai including some at Chelsea Flower Show.

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