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Antique Silver Spoons, Knives And Forks

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It was the custom to give a child a fine christening spoon, and this was usually marked with the name and date of birth. Such spoons are important for the definite records they provide. This is also true of funeral spoons which were given to the pallbearers of a prominent citizen. They usually bore the name of the deceased, the date of death, and the name of the recipient. These spoons are rarities today. Silver was also often given to bride and bridegroom and was usually marked with the initials of both and sometimes with the date of marriage. Such marked silver throws light on our ancestors and is valuable in tracing family trees.

There was need at first for a quite small spoon to use with the tiny china cups. So the silversmiths made a type smaller than the modern teaspoon but a bit larger than what we call a demitasse spoon. These little objects are charming and a collector of American silver is pleased indeed when he adds one or more to his collection.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, living in Colonial cities, following that of London, was gracious, indeed, and often luxurious. Colonial governors, familiar with the fashions in England and the Continent, brought new concepts of living to the people. Although few American silversmiths made knives and forks in quantity until the latter part of the eighteenth century, these were imported from England and were usually of steel with bone, ivory, or perhaps silver handles. Sheffield and Birmingham, noted for their fine steel, produced most of the steel household articles brought to the Colonies.

The silver knives and forks we take for granted today were not common even in England until the late seventeenth century. The first known allsilver fork made there bears the date i632'and is so rare and valuable that it is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It has two tines and a long narrow handle.

In early days only the nobles had knives, which served a double purpose for eating and for killing either man or beast. They were usually carried in a sheath and were made of the finest steel with handles that ranged from iron to gold, often inlaid and set with precious stones. Every age has its amenities and it was the custom for the noble to wipe his knife off carefully with a fine linen napkin before he put it into the salt dish.

Italy is credited with introducing forks in the sixteenth century, but it was not until early in the seventeenth that an Engiishman, Thomas Coryat, saw the nobles there eating with forks. He had one made for himself and took it back to England, but his friends laughed at him and thought him effeminate and history does not record whether or not Coryat continued to use his fork.

Always ahead of his time was Samuel Pepys, the famous columnist of the seventeenth century. We are grateful to him for keeping his diary so well. In it he records that he bought forks, but Pepys was a rich and fashionable gentleman, and because he had forks, it does not follow that everyone else in London used them at the time. In fact it was quite a while before knives and forks were common there and much longer before they became the fashion here.