Natchez shop features distinctive offering of silver spoons among other antiques

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; A few steps into Sharp Designs and Works of Art, a visitor to the shop senses something special.

There to the right are some works of art on the wall; more, on the left, are oil paintings, mostly from Europe. On shelves are colorful porcelain plates and bowls. And a stunning pair of Irish crystal compotes and decanters sit on a counter top.

Dominating the front room of the shop, however, and pulling the customer’s eye to them, are set after set of silver spoons and ladles &045; not ordinary pieces. Even the untrained eye can see a difference.

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Stella Roper Sharp has established in her Franklin Street shop one of the South’s finest collections of coin silver spoons. The years of collecting her pieces have led to study and investigation. She knows her silver.

Sharp likes to show off her early American coin silver, pointing out the shapes of the handles and bowls and the marks of the silversmith on the back. &uot;They are so beautiful, the early ones,&uot; she said, pointing out the unusual design of early 1800s spoons in what is known as the coffin shape.

&uot;For almost every one, I know who made it and where they were when they made it,&uot; Sharp said, calling out Utica, N.Y., Philadelphia, Boston and Connecticut as some of the known locations and pointing out the initials and other marks that can be identified in one of her large libraries of books on silver.

Sharp opened her first shop in the late 1970s, centering first on her love for flower designing. &uot;I wrapped my business around my silk flower arrangements,&uot; she said. &uot;I had to have vases for the arrangements; so I added those. And then when I thought I had made all the silk flower arrangements anyone wanted, I went into gifts.&uot;

With a growing interest in antiques, Sharp went in 1988 to spend a year taking courses in American decorative arts from Sotheby’s in New York City. &uot;We spent our days with curators learning about all the fine pieces in New York,&uot; she said.

Her shop began to grow along with her interest in antiques. Adding some furniture, she soon gave that up because she was unable to move the pieces herself.

She centered her interest on decorative objects, adding Old Paris pieces because customers requested them. All the while, however, spoons courted her deepest longings to collect.

&uot;Silver fascinates me because of its history,&uot; Sharp said. &uot;I love to think about who made it and who used it and how it has come down through the years.&uot;

Pulling one of her earliest serving spoons from the case, she fingered its pointed bowl. &uot;Look at that, how the end is totally worn off. That wouldn’t mean much to most people, but it thrills me right out of my skull.&uot;

Picking up a small 18th-century pair of spoons, she invited the visitor to touch. &uot;Feel it. It’s like silk.&uot;

A collection of her pieces by Southern artists is on display in a special case. &uot;These do not stay in the shop for very long. People love to find Southern silver.&uot;

She also is proud of spoons by women who were silversmiths &045; or goldsmiths, as they first were called, when they worked in gold, silver and other mediums.

&uot;One of my favorites is this one,&uot; she said, showing a sifter spoon made by Hester Bateman about 1775 with the pierced bowl making a dragon design.

Silver table utensils date to ancient times, but few from that era have survived. The making of silver in the United States began in the colony of Massachusetts.

Coin silver, Sharp’s favorite and the centerpiece of her collection of old spoons, gets its name from the old practice of melting coins to form useful pieces, which then might be again converted to coins when the well-to-do owners became short of money.

Loving her merchandise is important, Sharp said. She likes to have customers come into the shop to browse, to talk and, perhaps, to learn something about early silver spoons.

&uot;Mostly what happens here at my shop is we investigate and we talk,&uot; she said, as she moved back and forth among customers in the several rooms that wind to the back of the building. &uot;I feel I have an opportunity to share a reverence for something that is leaving us so fast, an appreciation for things like this.&uot;

Her silver will hold its value, be collectible and be a good investment always, she said. &uot;And I just hope my children and grandchildren will treasure them even if I don’t sell them.&uot;

Shrap Designs, 703 Franklin St., is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

&uot;Mostly what happens here at my shop is we investigate and we talk,&uot; she said, as she moved back and forth among customers in the several rooms that wind to the back of the building.

Stocks mixed, investors cautious after big rally

Eds: UPDATES throughout with close of trading.


AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) &045; Momentum from Wall Street’s big rally spilled over to Friday’s session, lifting most stocks for a third straight day and helping the market snap a two-week losing streak.

But investors exhibited some caution, not surprising after Thursday’s gains that were the best the market had seen in five months. While investors are more confident that a U.S. war with Iraq would be short and successful, they were wary of making further commitments ahead of the weekend.

Analysts were impressed that Wall Street added to its rally, a sign of strength rarely seen in market beaten down by a tepid economic recovery and war jitters. But Friday’s gains were hard fought and the market had to fight off earlier declines.

”Normally, you would expect some profit taking after a big run like yesterday. … But you have to be pretty encouraged that the market is holding up pretty well,” said John Caldwell, chief equity strategist for McDonald Financial Group, part of Cleveland-based KeyCorp.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 37.96, or 0.5 percent, at 7,859.71, according to preliminary calculations. On Thursday, the Dow surged 269.68 Thursday in its biggest one-day advance since Oct. 15. In three session, the Dow has gained 335.79.

The broader market was narrowly mixed. The Nasdaq composite index slipped 0.51, or 0.04 percent, to 1,340.26, following Thursday’s advance of 61.53, also its best one-day climb since Oct. 15. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1.36, or 0.2 percent, to 833.26, after gaining 27.71 on Thursday, its second best day of 2003.

Trending higher since Wednesday, the market’s gauges were able to break a two-week losing stretch. For the week, the Dow rose 1.6 percent, the Nasdaq climbed 2.7 percent and the S&P advanced 0.5 percent.

Analysts attributed this week’s advances to investor hopes that a war would be short and the United States would win. But they are dubious of the market’s ability to truly forge an upward path as long as there is uncertainty about Iraq.

”We saw a huge run up (Thursday), and the situation in the Middle East is still very cloudy,” said Lynn Reaser, chief economist and senior market strategist at Banc of America Capital Management. ”At this point, it is certainly premature to see any kind of sustained rally.”

Analysts said the market was unmoved by disappointing economic news, this time on inflation and business inventories. Investors are more preoccupied by war developments, as seen by Thursday’s rally that came despite weaker-than-expected retail sales for February.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported inflation at the wholesale level, as measured by the Producer Price Index, jumped 1 percent in February as energy prices surged by the largest amount since the buildup to the Gulf War 12 years ago. Last month’s increase followed a 1.6 percent rise in January, which had been the biggest one-month gain in 13 years.

Separately, the Commerce Department said business inventories grew for a ninth straight month in January, rising by 0.2 percent, but the pace of inventory building slowed, indicating that companies are wary about restocking.

Corning rose 20 cents to $5.90 after UBS Warburg upgraded the fiber optics maker to ”buy.”

Software maker Adobe climbed $2.27 to $30.79 on fiscal first-quarter profits that topped analysts’ expectations by 3 cents a share.

But Oracle, which also makes software, inched up a penny to $11.94 despite a downgrade to ”neutral” from Fulcrum.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners nearly 4 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading volume was moderate but at the healthiest levels it has been at all year, as was the case Thursday.

The Russell 2000 index, the barometer smaller company stocks, fell 1.05, or 0.3 percent, to 354.39.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average finished Friday up 1.7 percent. In Europe, France’s CAC-40 surged 7.3 percent, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 3.3 percent and Germany’s DAX index gained 2.1 percent.

Her silver will hold its value, be collectible and be a good investment always, she said. &uot;And I just hope my children and grandchildren will treasure them even if I don’t sell them.&uot;

Shrap Designs, 703 Franklin St., is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.