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American Souvenir Spoons
( Article orginally published December 1960 )
A wealth of reference material on old souvenir spoons appeared in publications issued around the turn of the century, and much of it is available to present day collectors. Since some of it may seem more than elusive, this article will suggest what to look for and where to find it, and will comment on types of American souvenirs shown therein.
During 1891, two books on American souvenirs were issued: "Souvenir Spoons" by George B. James, Jr., published bv A. W. Fuller & Co., Boston, Mass., and "Souvenir Spoons of America" compiled by the jewelers' Circular Publishing Company of New York City.
These out-of print volumes are among the reference material included in the spoon collection of Miss Jerry Garrett of Houston, Texas, and the books are so dissimilar they offer an interesting comparison."Souvenir Spoons", by James, is beautifully illuminated, but its general style resembles a catalog, with spoons pictured. described and priced on the same page. When it was published, and for several years thereafter, the spoons in it could still be bought (or ordered) from firms listed on its pages as exclusive outlets for each design. Consequently, it came to be known as the "James catalog", although it was written as a record book of noteworthy spoons.
The other book has a totally different make-up. As a means of inducing jewelry stores to promote sales of souvenirs, which had just been introduced to the American market, jewelers' Circular Publishing Company carried a series of articles on spoons in their wholesale trade journals, from March 25, 1891 through July 29, 1891. These (nineteen in number) were later put into book form, with the title "Souvenir Spoons of America". Being a compilation of articles, this book has running text, indicates no prices, and has spoon pictures scattered throughout, in a somewhat haphazard manner.
Of the books, James is superior as an aid to collectors, mainly because of its greater content. Their engagingly old fashioned terminology gives them much charm, in addition to their reference value.
Both books have introductions tracing the origin of souvenir and commemorative spoons. There are 224 pages in the James book, with a total of 379 pictures. "Souvenir Spoons of America" has only 104 pages, with 178 spoons illustrated, a preponderance of which were made by The Gorham Company. The book was compiled primarily for them, and although it pictures spoons manufactured by many other firms, it is often called "Gotham's book", a slightly misleading name. Most of the spoons shown in it are also pictured in the James book.
Few of these 1891 books appear in today's market, and they can be considered so rare as to be nearly non-existent, insofar as a buyer is concerned. Occasionally, one can be located through advertising or listings with professional book-finders. One of them, however, "Souvenir Spoons" by James, has recently been made available to collectors in an excellent photographic reprint, by Louise Cirillo of California, and is advertised in The Antiques Joiarnal.
Other printed material in Miss Garrett's collection includes mark books, old magazine articles, advertisements and catalogs, most of them found in antique shops or second hand bookstores. Catalogs show interesting flatware, silver services and bibelots, with usually only a page or two devoted exclusively to souvenir spoons. Some of them picture complete sets of zodiac, Nuremberg and apostle spoons.
Authoritative works on European and American silver seldom mention souvenir spoons. The book most useful in identifying their makers is "Trade-marks of the Jewelry and Kindred Trades", published (first) in 1896 by jewelers' Circular Publishing Company. The 1909 edition is preferable, but any of the old editions (1896, 1898, 1904, 1909 and 1915) are fine. These are out-of-print, of course, and can be had only in used copies. In lieu of an old one, the current edition (dated 1950) is helpful and is available through Chilton Company, Inc., Philadelphia, Pa.
It should be noted that when these books were issued in 1891, souvenir spoons has been on the market barely a year. Even of the 2,200 designs already existing at that early date, the books scratched only the surface in picturing collectible spoons. Together, they show less than a dozen designs created for sale at the Columbian Exposition-originally scheduled for an 1892 opening, but delayed until 1893. By the time the Exposition opened, hundreds of spoons had been designed for it, and that fair is credited with popularizing souvenir spoons to such an extent the fad lasted up to the period of the First World War.
Some of the most imposing souvenirs ever fashioned were made long after publication of the old books. Neither book shows any of the tremendously desirable souvenirs made by Tiffany, Blackington, Lunt, Watson, Mayer, Shepard, Paye & Baker, Tammon, Manchester, Robbins and many other firms which produced collector's items up to about 1915. Illustrations of these will be seen only in old magazines and catalogs.
As a guide to collectors, however, the two old books are of inestimable value. They picture early examples of highest quality silversmithing by Gorham and other leaders in the field, which set a very demanding pace for subsequent makers. Thus, they serve to indicate the types of souvenirs which can form a beautiful and significant spoon collection.
Full-page ads picturing spoons appeared in magazines such as Scribnel's, Century, Harper's, Christian Herald, etc. These can be found in shops and the best dates to look for are 1891 to about 1910. Miss Garrett has also obtained such material from clipping bureaus, at nominal charges. While all old ads are interesting, they are of no particular value unless they show things not previously known to the collector.
One such ad (from an old American Magazine) was recently given to Miss Garrett by a Philadelphia collector, Ernie Gommel. It pictures and describes a unique sterling mustache spoon, sold as a souvenir of the 1894 San Francisco Mid-Winter Exposition. Its handle shows the usual California bear and local scenes, and its bowl has an engraved view of Golden Gate. On the shelf-like mustache guard (with side opening similar to the guard on a mustache cup) is an embossed group of Exposition buildings. This gently hooked tip of bowl enabled a user to rest the spoon across top of his soup-bowl while he "engaged in polite conversation!"
Real prizes, which can be found in shops or begged from long-established jewelry firms, are the professionally compiled albums of old souvenirs, carried by manufacturers representatives or left for display in stores which had a large volume of souvenir sales.
The sheets in such albums are uncluttered by text or advertising, with beautifully detailed photographs on onlv one side or each page. The ones (11" x 15") in Miss Garrett's collection show spoons made by Lunt Silversmiths around 1900, including many of their state spoons.
As applied to souvenir spoons, "rare" is an over-worked word. Rarity should bear a direct ratio to the total produced and the number now available, and some of the old printed material gives a crystal clear idea of spoons which can properly be called "rare".
Undoubtedly, the rarest of all souvenirs would be the six-horse Conestoga Wagon spoon. Only one dozen were said to have been made for Zahm & Company of Lancaster, Pa. Miss Garrett has never heard of an existing example of this old spoon, but it is described in her reference material. Its bowl pictured the wagon, and its handle was in the form of a balloon with ropes and basket, with the name "Lancaster" on the balloon.
Other spoons, of editions not quite so limited, can be seen pictured in old bulletins and pamphlets. They were made for banquets, societies, conventions, etc., in quantities ranging from 35 or 40 up to a few hundred. They were often given to guests as favors, or sold to raise money for projects. Their present desirability depends on the wants of individual collectors, rather than on their nebulous value as rarities.
One of Miss Garrett's old Gorham catalog pages shows a set of fifteen actress spoons made in a limited edition of 250 sets, for the 1892 Actor's Fund Fair held in New York City. Each spoon is tipped by a dimentional bust of an actress and carries a facsimile of her autograph. The signatures on the old catalog page cannot be read, and Gorham now has no record of the fifteen actresses portrayed. Of this set of spoons, Miss Garrett has six which show these signatures; Sarah Bernhardt, Rosina Vokes, Mary Anderson, Annie Russell, Fanny Davenport, and one which is illegible.
These limited edition spoons were sold at the Actors Fund Fair, to raise money for indigent theatrical performers. For the same 1892 Fair, Gorham made the remarkable cream ladle showing five actresses on obverse handle and five actors on reverse.
"The American Story in Spoons", written in 1953 by the recently deceased Albert Stutzenberger of Louisville, Ky. is the only book published on souvenir spoons since 1891. It is replete with stories of bygone days, illustrated through the medium of spoons, and the Actors' Fund ladle is one of t spoons discussed at length. The Stutzenberger book (available through The Antiques Journal Book Shop lists) also includes reproductions of several old catalog pages.
Many old ads contain details which augment information in books, such as one of Miss Garrett's pages from a March 1891 Harper's, picturing several versions of the George Washington cameo portrait spoon by M. W. Galt, Bro. & Co., Washington, D. C., described as the first spoon designed in this country for use as a souvenir.
The book "Souvenir Spoons of America" describes the Galt spoons, made prior to the one hundredth anniversary of Washington's presidency in 1889. For each design showing George Washington, there was a companion design with a cameo portrait of Martha Washington, in like placement.
The late Carl Drepperd's alphabetical list of souvenirs (available in the loose-leaf "Antiques Digest" or in reprint pages) mentions, among other Galt items, a spoon with cameos of both George and Martha Washington, one in the bowl and one on the handle. "Souvenir Spoons of America" also describes the items with both portraits, but illustrates only one spoon, carrying the single cameo of George Washington.No spoons made prior to 1890 are mentioned by the James book. It refers to the Salem Witch Pattern No. l (struck in 1890 by Wm. B. Durgin for Daniel Low) as the "first design suggestive of a specific place." A few months later, Pattern No. 2 was struck by Gorham. Possibly because of their unusual subject, the Witch spoons had the largest sale of any early souvenirs, and no spoons have been as highly advertised. The two patterns were made in tremendous quantities, annually, for many years; hence, they are still plentiful.
The two full-figure Uncle Sam spoons, highly regarded by collectors, are evenly divided between the old books. "Souvenir Spoons of America" shows the one made by Alvin, which faces right and has the J. Karr imprint. The Alivin spoons is Miss Garrett's preference, but most collectors favor the j. Karr design, which depicts Uncle Sam with an exaggeratedly long beard. The origin of the sobriquet "Uncle Sam" is recounted in the James book.
Whether a reader collects spoons or not, the two old books are fascinating because of historical details in their descriptions of each spoon. These are written in a delight fully droll way, or in a solemn or sentimental vein, dependinon the subject. The descriptions also help explain or identify portraits (on spoons) of people whose fame has been diminished by passing years.