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Rare American Silver Spoons

From the Middle Ages on, the silver spoon has been a symbol of a certain standard of living. "Born with a silver spoon in his mouth," has long indicated a person who began life shielded from the harsh winds of poverty. Silver spoons were among the first investments made by English yeomen or the early American colonists to mark a change in their social status as they struggled up from meager beginnings.

Gifts of silver spoons also marked such important events as births, weddings, and deaths. In the American colonies from the 1640's, when the first spoons were hammered out, to the middle of the nineteenth century, when mechanized production forced the silversmith out of business, silver spoons were part of a young woman's dowry. The quantity depended on the family's financial position, but it was a poverty-stricken household that could not find the money for at least six teaspoons and a tablespoon or two.

Although silver-spoon making goes back at least to the twelfth century, most of those still suitable for use date from between 1780 and 1850. Earlier examples are in museums or private collections. Even spoons made during the first half of the eighteenth century are none too plentiful.

The reason is obvious. Although spoons were made in fair quantity from the time of John Hull in the seventeenth century, constant use took its toll. Furthermore, there was the practice of melting down old silver to appear again in newer designs which continued until well into the nineteenth century.

The types that preceded them in the second half of the seventeenth century were first a rounded bowl with a hexagonal handle; then came the rat-tail, so-called because of a projection on the back of its bowl, which was elliptical in shape. With the 1700's, there was a narrower bowl and a less flattened stem, and by 1750 handle tips and bowls became more pointed.

Thus, in Philadelphia about 1793 handles were made much more slender, with pointed end. Bright-cutting, a popular form of ornamentation, appears on the next spoon, New York-made in the 1800's. The "coffin-lid" handle and may have been given to relatives and friends of the deceased instead of the usual mourning ring of the day; but probably it is so-named merely because of the shape. Another popular spoon, made in the 1790's, is by Thomas Revere,(brother of Paul)had a shell-shaped bowl.This type of spoon was a novelty, and designed for sugar. The "fiddle- back," it might date from anytime in the 1840's. A contemporary and rarer shape is that of the shovel. This may reflect the beginning of public works and building of the early railroads. The doll's spoon at the top was also made about 1850 or slightly later. These miniature spoons were the work of apprentices and were tests of their skill. Spoons with handles like the shell or shovel sugar spoons are late but artistic in outline.



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