As the oldest type of flatware, spoons have existed in some form or another since Ancient Rome, at least. In medieval times, spoons were given as baptism presents in wealthy circles. Because inns did not have anything as luxurious as spoons for their guests, innkeepers expected their well-heeled customers to supply their own.
Indeed, the phrase “born with a silver spoon in his mouth” actually reveals quite a bit about the time—whether or not one had a spoon, not to mention its quality and value, spoke volumes about an individual’s socio-economic status.
As with all other metalware, spoons marked as sterling silver are 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent copper and other trace elements. This standard originated in England in the 13th century and got the backing of British law in 1300, when Edward I mandated that sterling silver bear a hallmark in order to prevent fraud...
Hundreds of years later, in the 1840s, this standard became increasingly important with the development of electroplating, which required significantly less silver to produce something that looked like solid sterling. Suddenly, spoons and other utensils were mass-produced, with a wider range of silver content than ever before. The sterling-silver standard is still enforced in England today by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.
The earliest surviving spoons of note are the Apostle spoons, which generally date from the 15th century. Each bears a small, full-figure bust on the end of its stem. These silver spoons were produced in sets of 13—one for each of the 12 Apostles, plus a larger “master” spoon for Christ.
The 17th century saw major developments for spoons. Setting tables with flatware finally came into vogue, thanks to practices in the French court. In England, the teaspoon was introduced to help tea drinkers remove floating leaves from their tea. (Previously, tea drinkers had simply swallowed them.) The teaspoon, combined with the introduction of the fork in the middle of the century, sparked a process of differentiation for utensils.
In the 1680s, trefid spoons emerged, which had shallower bowls and a trefoil end. A few decades later, these spoons evolved into the “dog-nose” shape. In the years to come, a variety of designs emerged: King’s, Fiddle Thread, and Shell, just to name a few. Different spoons emerged as place pieces—like dessert spoons, cream soup spoons, sorbet spoons, citrus spoons, and egg spoons—and as serving pieces—berry spoons, salt spoons, olive spoons, and tablespoons.
From the 1890s to 1920s, commemorative spoons also enjoyed a burst of popularity. These spoons paid tribute to cities, scenery, events, people, and more. In the West, for example, some spoons depicted the robbery of a stagecoach. Some businesses also gave out spoons as a form of advertising. Naturally, serving silver commemorative spoons are generally more valuable than those which are only silver-plated.
Interviews & Articles
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