Seal top spoon

This seal top spoon was created by Richard Hilliard. Father of the renowned Elizabethan portrait miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, Richard was a highly skilled craftsman himself. He worked within a community of goldsmiths in Exeter, based primarily around the Guildhall and Broadgate areas.

The son of Cornish goldsmith John Hilliard, Richard was born c.1520. He was apprenticed to John Wall then admitted to Freedom in 1546, having satisfied his master that he had learned the trade to an acceptable standard. Goldsmithing enjoyed high status as a craft. Like many involved in the trade Richard was an influential citizen who owned considerable property in Exeter. He held several important civic positions, serving as a Bailiff, a Common Councillor and later Sheriff.

The description seal top refers to a spoon with a disc shaped or hexagonal terminal, made from the 16th to late 17th century. Seal tops were the most common form of spoon during the restoration period and proved to be bestsellers for West Country goldsmiths. The seals were casted then decoration was added with hand tools. A variety of designs were created, which help us to work out the origin of a particular spoon. These spoons had important functions as prestige gifts for weddings and were also given by godparents for christenings.

The spoon in RAMM’s collection is dated c.1570. It consists of a seal top or circular seal on a hexagonal stem with a fig shaped bowl. Silver gilt was used. Punched onto the bowl of the spoon is the maker’s mark – Richard’s initials RH in the form of a monogram within a pelleted circle. The inscription E/NH was also pricked into the tip of the terminal.

Object Summary

Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
silver (gilt) | | | |
Common Name
seal top spoon
Simple Name
Inscription Transcription
E / NH
Period Classification
Elizabethan (1558-1603)
Production Town
Production County
Production Country
United Kingdom: England
Production Date
c 1570
Production Person Initials
Production Person Surname
Production Year Low
Production Year High

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seal top spoon