Q: Hi Michelle, I hope that you can help me solve a mystery. We were going through boxes (many boxes) of items that had belonged to my grandma and other family relatives. I came across several items that look like the photographs I am sending you.
They look like they might be baby toys but with all of the small parts I don’t know who would let a baby play with them. Could they be doll toys? All three measure about 5 1/2 in long. Any light you can shed on these would be a great help. Also if you have an idea what they are worth I would love to know.
A: What you have are, in fact, baby items. Two date to the Victorian era and the Birmingham mark on the third dates it circa 1930.
Rattles or baby soothers with their elaborate chased and repoussé ornamentation were often given as christening gifts. More often than not they were crafted with sterling silver but you do see silver plate as well. Sometimes around the top there will be toy or cartoon characters, a word such as “Baby” or “Darling” or the initials of the child.
I will start with the Victorian baby soother with the red coral on the bottom for teething, balls around the circumference for rattling and a whistle on the end. There is oftentimes a metal loop or other attachment so that the soother can be hung around the baby’s neck with a ribbon.
The “GU” hallmark on this piece is that of George Unite, a well known silversmith with a workshop in Birmingham England. This mark was registered in 1832 and was used until 1945. There are no silver assay marks or other indicators as to whether or not this is sterling or plated silver.
The second Victorian piece has either mother of pearl or abalone as the teething portion of the soother. It also has a cat playing a fiddle as a decorative element and two bells or balls for the rattler. It is marked Sterling but I cannot make out the hallmark to know who might have made it. I actually saw one very similar to this in the TV show “Downton Abbey.”
The third is my favorite and dates a bit later than the other two. It has two teething areas made of ivory or bone. The center decoration is that of a child and under the bust “Mama’s Pet.” As I indicated earlier this one dates to around 1930 based on the Birmingham, England mark on the reverse.
Back when these were made and actually used children were not left unattended to amuse themselves. We also didn’t have all the watchdog groups telling us what had the potential to be harmful to children.
You do see these in doll size which are generally no longer than 3” and reproductions of antique and vintage baby soothers are everywhere. I have also seen musical instruments, clusters of bells with a handle, being referred to as baby rattles. This is one genre of collectible where you need to do your homework before you make a purchase.