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Hi

I'm researching the history of the Bow Street Office prior to 1839, particular reference the Runners and Principal Officers and am looking for a suitable tipstaff to illustrate a talk.

I  would like something 1820 or earlier and have seen some being sold, two described as Victorian and one as Georgian. I have contacted both sites and asked for dating evidence but haven't really had a convincing answer from either. I realise this is a real mine field and would like some more expert advice.

The two sites are: jcmilitaria.com items 13495 and 13496, described as Victorian, and michaeldlong.com which has the one described as Georgian. I have 'The Policeman's Lot' and have consulted it and the Georgian one seems to have more of a Victorian crown to my hugely inexpert eye.

Any advice greatly received.

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You're asking a very good question, for which I'm not sure there is a good answer.  I believe Mervyn Mitton's book has a photo (black and white?) of a small tipstaff that reputedly belonged to a Bow Street Runner.  That little tipstaff in Mervyn's book was unremarkable in its features.  I am not sure whether the provenance for that little tipstaff was strong, or just hearsay and there is no real way to tell. 

There is another Bow Street attributed tipstaff on Alan Cook's website.  I don't know if it is in Mr. Cook's collection, or in another collection.   That tipstaff looks like a typical Public Office tipstaff of the late 18th / early 19th Century, and of the type you would want to look at.  Mr. Cook says about the tipstaff:

The tipstaff shown in figure 1 is unusual in that it is attributable to a specific officer. It is brass with a turned wood handle and is engraved on the barrel ‘J. Birchall / P.O / Bow Street’. It probably belonged to a John Birchall who appears regularly in the records at the Old Bailey. All of his cases occurred during the reign of George IV between 1823 and 1828. In each he is referred to as either an ‘officer’ or ‘constable’. The type of cases he was involved with included embezzlement, theft, pickpocketing, bigamy and grand larceny.

You can see that tipstaff here:  http://www.truncheon.org.uk/middlesex/

There were only half a dozen Bow Street Runners originally in that Public Office, so your chances of finding their tipstaff are slim.  They were not particularly wealthy men (although with time they became well-known to the public and the media) and so the likelihood is high that they owned merely a simple, un-engraved, fairly unremarkable tipstaff, which is floating around somewhere, unrecognized for the rarity that it truly is.

There were substantially more Bow Street Horse Patrol mounted riders (about 60 or so to start) and they carried painted truncheons in the period your seek (and up to 1836 when the Horse Patrol amalgamated with the newly-created Metropolitan Police).  You may get lucky one day to lay your hands on a painted truncheon from the Bow Street Horse Patrol, but I daresay there are, in my opinion, fewer than ten such truncheons extant.

And so, if you see a "Bow Street" tipstaff offered for sale anywhere, my advice would be to be be very very weary of it as there isn't a very good way to discern reality from fantasy.   I believe the chanced of finding a tipstaff with a bona fide iron-clad attribution to a Bow Street Runner is virtually nill. 

Having said that, I did see a brass tipstaff engraved "Public Office Bow Street" come to the auction block recently but I would not bid on it because I thought it was spurious.  It did not make very much money and so it appears other collectors agreed with me.

The two websites you mention are fairly reputable dealers in militaria who have had both truncheons and tipstaffs for sale, but I don't recall them ever selling a tipstaff attributed to Bow Street. 

I'm not sure how helpful my ramblings are, but perhaps you will find them useful in some fashion.

Edited by CollectorInTheUSA
Added info

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In responding to this post I am not sure I can add much more than has already been said by 'CollectorInTheUSA' as his comments are sound. To deal with the main question first raised I would suggest using any photo of a plain tipstaff (i.e. metal crown and barrel with a turned wood handle) of which there are many available on the website. You hear phrases such as 'a generic style of Bow Street tipstaff', but in my experience there is no such thing, and herein lies the problem when identifying genuine pieces. Bow Street, above all other places, has long held a fascination with those interested in the history of policing. This has, I am sure, encouraged people to embellish plain, but genuine, items with engraving to confuse the unsuspecting collector/historian.

To add a little with regard to the published examples I would comment as follows. The black and white example illustrated by Mitton is attributed to Jonathan Wilde (not a 'Runner'), and is said to be similar to an example belonging to John Townsend (probably the most well known 'Runner), and is from the collection kept, until recently, at Bramshill House. The Bramshill collection is widely regarded as one of the most important ever put together. In fact the bulk of the collection is made up from two main endowments made in the mid 20th century. The background information on pieces is scant, which means we need to approach the collection with an enquiring mind. The is another example in Mitton (page 69) which is engraved 'Public Office Bow Street' and to all appearance appears to be genuine (also illustrated in Fenn Clark).    

In mentioning Fenn Clark he shows a 'Runners' tipstaff held in the Canterbury Museum, but again enquires with this museum cannot prove this attribution.

The simple fact is time and some unscrupulous persons have made it very difficult for us to determine the fake from the genuine. The Birchall example mentioned in the earlier post is in my collection, and in my book I give details of its provenance. In my opinion you need to be able to trace a piece at least back to the 1960/70's (and if possible earlier) to be reasonably confident about engraving. In this way you avoid the 1980's which was a terrible period for the faking of engraving on tipstaves. In a sad twist this was in some ways brought about by the resurgence of interest in these items brought about by Mitton, including the publishing of his book. Tipstaves were making top money in those days, reaching prices you would struggle to get today.

 

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Adding to an old post, Gorringe's has in its next sale what they have described as"An early 19th century brass tipstaff, inscribed Police Office, Bow.Stn 2, with turned hardwood handle, 7.5in.   Estimate £350-450"

I suppose one has to make up one's own mind as to the authenticity of this item.... 

Mercifully, Gorringe's provided many photos to peruse.

This tipstaff can be seen here:  http://auction.gorringes.co.uk/auction-lot-detail/LSEPT17/5

Edited by CollectorInTheUSA

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I'm completely clueless when it comes to tipstaves, so just out of curiosity: Are these real tipstaves or something made by IKEA:

(sorry for diverging a little from the Bow Street subject)

 

tipstaves.JPG

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Hello Great Dane.  My sense is that the tipstaff on the left and the tipstaff in the middle, are authentic.  They are likely Victorian.  They are rather pedestrian, and would not have great value, being the sort of little tipstaff that the working man office holder would keep in a pocket.  It's nice to see that the tipstaff on the left has what appears to be the original purple (perhaps originally red, now discolored) velvet in the crown (meant to mimic the Royal Crown's "Cap of Maintenance"). 

The tipstaff to the right is a bit more involved, and looks to not have the wear pattern I would expect to see on a 150 year old tipstaff.  Having said that, it is perhaps just in an excellent state of preservation.  I think it's likely to be authentic, but I am just a tad bit less certain of this one.  It does, however, look like it's perhaps missing its finial top (the "Maltese Cross").  You would have to send a photo that shows the top clearly for us to be able to determine that with certainty.  I think the tipstaff on the right is probably also right, and would have had a slightly higher value than its brethren to the left, were it not for the missing finial.  If the finial is not missing, then perhaps it would have a slightly higher value.

I hope this is of some help to you, and please feel free to ask additional questions if you have them.

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While most of the tipstaves we are used to seeing tend to have a bulbous handles example such as this are also well known. It is; however, fairly unusual to see three at once. I agree with collector in the USA that there are definitely no issues with the first two. I think the problem with the third piece is that overall it is not a pretty example and the proportions do not feel right. That said on balance I would say it is genuine as the handle appears to be integral to the piece and you don't normally fine fakers making up such elaborate metal work. The real issue with faked tipstaves is engraved decoration such as the Bow Street example mentioned earlier. This is not the first time this piece has been offered at auction over the past few years. I have looked closely at it and while wanting it to be genuine just don't know. I wouldn't  try and put anyone off buying it as you will find no one who can say for certain if it is genuine or fake.

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I completely agree with Mr. Cook.  I think the "trick" to understanding engraving (if there is a trick) is to ask oneself, "If I were a professional engraver, would I be proud of this engraving as my handiwork?"  The Georgian and Victorian metal workers and engravers were skilled (often highly-skilled) professionals, likely apprenticed for years, and many were even artistic.  For the most part, they were careful about their work, and took pride in it, and received a fair price for it.  As such, if you see a tipstaff with very sloppy engraving you may not be looking at original period work. 

Edited by CollectorInTheUSA

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Thank you both for this enlightening information. I learned something new.

Not expanding into tipstaff collecting - just saw these at a local online auction while at the same time reading this thread. Made me curious :)

P.S: I can confirm that the tipstaff on the right is missing the top cross.

/Michael

 

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