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Antiques Considered - May 11, 2011

A lady in Urbanna acquired this brass mortar and pestle many years ago.  It weighs 25 pounds, and is unmarked as to maker or origin.  It is six inches high, and the pestle is eight inches long.  She wonders if it could be English.

The age of the mortar and pestle appears to be about 250 years, that is from the mid-seventeen hundreds.  The level of wear attests to its having been used heavily, perhaps commercially in an apothecary shop, or on a farm where herbs were crushed for home use. 

Given the weight, the metal might be bronze, rather than brass. Bronze would be a tougher metal to use, less subject to being dented or scratched by the pestle.

Because the present location is in Urbanna, in Middlesex County, I question if it could be Spanish.  I offer that comment based on my memory of a gentleman at Hayes in Gloucester County, the neighboring jurisdiction, having a large import business back in the 1970s.
He specialized in bring Spanish antiques to Virginia, and virtually saturated the market with them.  Interestingly, he had served in the military in Spain, where he made the contacts that led to the establishment of his business.  I recall once seeing a display of thirty-odd mortars and pestles in his warehouse.  Perhaps this set came from his inventory?

Whereas in centuries past these items were of everyday use, today they are principally decorative.  Being brass or bronze, modern science holds that they should not be used for food or medicinal purposes, thus their best function is purely to give a certain look that fits a decorator’s concept or theme.

As to country of origin, this set could be British, Spanish or American, and assigning a place is purely a matter of speculation.
This set is worth $200.  The prevalence of such pieces on the market has kept their prices low.

Happy Antiquing!

Lisa and Henry Hull operate Commonwealth Antiques and Appraisals, Inc. at 5150 Jessie DuPont Hwy., 22570 (P. O. Box 35). Wicomico Church, Va. 22570. Write to them or e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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