B.M. Bailey, Ludlow silversmith

Local History
B.M. Bailey, Ludlow silversmith

Over the years I have bought and sold hundreds of pieces of early Vermont silver and silverware. One of the most sought-after makers is Roswell H. Bailey of Woodstock (1804-1886). Another highly prized silversmith’s work is that of Roswell’s cousin, Bradbury M. Bailey (1824-1913).

Roswell married Fidelia Bailey. Fidelia was not only Roswell’s cousin but also Bradbury’s sister. That makes Roswell and Bradbury not only cousins but also brother-in-laws.

B M Bailey teaspoon. Ron Photo by Ron Patch.

Bradbury apprenticed with Roswell in Woodstock for three years and after worked with Roswell as a journeyman. In 1848 Bradbury moved to Ludlow and set up shop there. He was a maker of teaspoons, tablespoons and serving spoons, working in coin silver.

Coin silver is 90 percent silver with the remaining 10 percent a copper alloy. So as to note the difference, sterling silver is 92.5 percent silver with the balance a similar alloy as coin. I should mention that because of the Panic of 1837 (a severe depression) there was a shortage of silver and silver coins in New England for several years.

Silver coins are also 90 percent silver, hence coin silver. It was not uncommon for silversmiths to take silver coins out of circulation, melt them down and use the smelted silver for making silverware.

Bradbury Bailey worked in Ludlow until about 1854 when he moved to Rutland and set up shop on Merchants Row. During his six years in Ludlow he produced a large amount of silverware. Over the years I have owned many of his pieces.

One piece of hollowware is known to exist by B. M. Bailey. Hollowware would be a teapot, mug or other cylindrical item. That exquisite coin silver beaker was exhibited at fairs and expositions to illustrate to the public Bradbury’s skill as a silversmith. It is expertly engraved on its side, “Manufactured by B.M. Bailey, Ludlow, Vt.” and surrounded by an engraved wreath.

Bradbury Bailey was a prolific maker of silver spoons, producing more than the local market could absorb. Bradbury wholesaled a large number of silver spoons to other Vermont silversmiths as well as outside of Vermont. The spoons he wholesaled were not marked with his hallmark and left unmarked. Retailers who bought his spoons applied their own hallmarks. One of his largest customers was “Palmer & Batchelders” of Boston. This may account for the vast amount of Palmer & Batchelders spoons that survive today.

Ron Patch
B M Bailey hallmark. Photo by Ron Patch.

These wholesale spoons, while not hallmarked by Bradbury Bailey, are unmistakable in workmanship, size and form as being his product.

Coin spoons are very thin and easily bent. You sometimes see a coin silver teaspoon where the bowl has many small dents. In the 1800s, children who were teething were given a coin spoon to cut their teeth on. This explains those dents. These spoons are treasured by family descendants.

For those readers who have family silver, you might want to inspect the hallmarks on the rear stem of your silver spoons. You might find a Bailey spoon or other Vermont silversmith. If they are monogrammed, as most are, and you do a little genealogical work you might be able to identify the original owner.

The photos with this article are of a Bradbury Bailey coin silver teaspoon that descended in the White family of Belmont and is now in my possession. It is hallmarked “B.M. Bailey” and was made in Ludlow for my great-great-grandmother, Elmina E. Sawyer of Mount Holly. Nicely engraved on the end of the spoon handle are her initials, “E.E.S.”

Elmina (1840-1908) married John E. White (1830-1902), also of Mount Holly. This John E. White was a descendant of the Mayflower and my great-great-grandfather’s and my Mayflower connection. John White was a carriage painter, carpenter and a mechanic. The Whites have lived in Mount Holly and Belmont for more than 200 years, with a distant cousin of mine still a resident.

The next meeting of the Chester Historical Society is Thursday, April 27 at 7 p.m. at the Academy Building on Main Street. The brief business meeting will be followed by a monthly slideshow, which will be old Chester photos. All are invited, whether members or not. This will be our first meeting this year at the Academy. The heat will be on if needed.

This week’s old saying my mother used and means the same as “More than Carter has liver pills.” She’d say, “There’s more than 40-11 of them.”

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