Here is an original matching set of 48 knives and forks in four sizes, contained in what is probably their original storage box made to order for the set. Included are twelve larger knives (eleven and one quarter inches), twelve smaller knives (eight and three-quarters inches), twelve larger forks (nine inches) and twelve smaller forks (seven and one quarter inches), plus an added set of five James Robinson (England) sterling silver large spoons from the 20th century in the Early English pattern.
Colonial Williamsburg possesses a set of twenty knives and forks in this same Chelsea pattern mounted by Jefferys, but only in two sizes, and they illustrate one knife and fork in their book “Chelsea Porcelain at Williamsburg.” The description reads: “The steel blades are stamped with a crown/GR/IEF/RIS, the mark of a member of the Jeffreys (or Jeffries) family of London cutlers. Nathaniel Jeffreys is known to have mounted Chelsea handles of this period because he advertised them in the London Daily Advertiser in 1751 and 1753; (the ad of) January 23, 1753 reads: ‘China knives and forks of the Chelsea Manufactory in the greatest variety of most beautiful Dresden Patterns Mounted and Sold by Nathaniel Jefferys Cutler to His Majesty, their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Wales and the Duke.’” The Jeffreys mark (present here on all the large knife blades) consists of the initials (in Latin) for Georgius Rex (George the King, meaning in this case King George II), followed by a version of the family name in Latin, “Iefris.” In 1739, Nathaniel Jefferys had taken over the cutlery shop of his father-in-law Daniel Gurney at No. 32 Strand in the Parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. He operated his shop there until 1772. He was sworn in on September 19, 1743, as "Cutler in Ordinary to His Majesty." Several swords in the Royal Armouries collection in Leeds have the Jeffreys mark.
The fact that Jeffreys mounted sets of cutlery for the king and other royal figures indicates that his shop was the highest of the high-end, and his products would always have exemplified the finest taste of the day. He would purchase porcelain from the Chelsea factory, mount them as utensils with steel blades and tines, and sell the sets in his shop—or make them to order for the nobility. His son, also Nathaniel, became a noted goldsmith, and members of his extended family also produced blades, toys and other metal objects at their own shops around London.
This set has remained intact since it was fashioned over 270 years ago. The figured mahogany-veneered box is also a treasure, probably the original container for this set, though it might not have been made by Jeffreys. It has forty-eight round holes for the knives and forks, plus six crescent holes for spoons (now replaced by five spoons made and marked by James Robinson) and there is one very small hole which is empty. The case is fourteen and a half inches high at the back and nine inches wide. The slanting surface and the inside of the lid have inlaid wood. It retains the original silver mounts and the lock, but the key has been lost.
A complete set of Chelsea cutlery from the 18th century is extraordinarily rare. Normally one is limited to buying sparse assemblages of several random pieces, which might or might not have started out together. The number of empty knife boxes available today would seem to indicate that sets of cutlery were rather fragile because the porcelain was liable to breakage from being dropped or from not being able to stand up to the forces applied to them while eating. Many sets must have been used until so many of the porcelain handles were broken that the imperfect ones were simply thrown out and the remaining ones distributed to the servants or sold. Many of the boxes that had once held cutlery have long since been refitted to contain letters or documents. This set has almost certainly been together since it was made, and even the damaged porcelain handles were kept.
All in all, 28 pieces show no damage. The remaining ones show various amounts of damage and restoration. The small knives (probably the most heavily used of the set) have suffered the most, with damage to nine. Five of the twelve large knives are damaged, as well as three of the large forks and three of the small forks. Some damage was repaired at various times (mostly by dark hide glue), and some missing sections have been replaced. Currently these replaced sections have been repainted white for a better display, but the cracks have been left as they are. I show a selection of the repaired handles so you can assess the overall look. The metal mounts are in fine shape with no major signs of wear. The tines of the forks are straight; the blades show no bends and few signs of use. (They are still very sharp!) The Robinson spoons also are in fine shape. The box has a strip of repaired veneer at the back of one side and several small repaired veneer chips, plus minor edge wear. One hinge has broken through, so you have to be careful and support the lid when opening the box. Of course, I can’t prove that Jeffreys made this set for good old King George himself, but there’s still a chance. . . . Where will you ever find another set like this available?
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Complete Set 48 Chelsea Porcelain Knives & Forks, Original Cutlery Box C.1750-52, Mounted by the King’s Cutler Nathaniel Jeffreys, + 5 James Robinson Old English Spoons
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