Of all the serving implements at a dinner table, tongs are perhaps the most fun to use. Unlike knives, forks, and spoons, or utensils such as butter picks and soup ladles, tongs are slightly mechanical, which means they must be properly manipulated to successfully carry everything from sugar cubes to asparagus spears to one’s plate. At a dull dinner party, the opportunity to operate a pair of tongs may be the high point of the evening.

Sterling silver sugar tongs were easily the most common type made in Great Britain. They were preceded in the mid-1700s by sugar nips, which are sometimes called tea tongs. Like sugar tongs, sugar nips were designed to clasp a cube, but the device pivoted at its center on a fulcrum, just like a pair of scissors. As a result, they were costly to produce and their engineering was perhaps needlessly sophisticated for the task at hand (grabbing a cube of sugar and dropping it into a cup of tea).

Sugar nips were used from the 18th to 19th centuries, but pivot-less tongs were also produced during this period. The earliest sugar tongs, whose center section resembled an upside-down U, were cast in three pieces—the arms, which were often pierced, and the center U, commonly called the bow.

The most valuable cast sterling-silver tongs are from the Georgian Era (1714-1830) and were made by English smiths such as Hester Bateman, John Langlands, and John Robertson. Cast Georgian-style tongs were also widely produced during the Victorian Era, so you need to be familiar with the hallmarks of several hundred years worth of silversmiths to be able to tell the difference.

Tongs formed from a single piece of silver can be dated to the late 1700s. These were often engraved, and many had a noticeable concave running on the inside of the tongs, from tip to tip. Sometimes the arms ended in a spoon or shell shape, other times they were more like a three-tined fork, or even a claw.

Intricately engraved and pierced tongs were typical of the Georgian Era, but as the 1800s dawned, more and more smiths toned down the decorations on their flatware. Contemporary tongs of the day got plainer, more solid, except, of course, for those that deliberately copied the older, more rococo styles of the previous century.

In addition to tongs for clasping sugar, larger, wider serving tongs were produced for everything from asparagus to small sandwiches. There were also tongs for ice cubes, whose s...

For the most part, New World smiths emulated the styles of their Old World forebears. Colonial and American silversmiths such as Paul Revere and Charles Oliver Bruff made sugar and other types of sterling silver tongs.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Silversugartongs.com

Silversugartongs.com

Graham Hodges' collection of antique Georgian (as in King George of England) silver sugar tongs from 1760 to 1820. … [read review or visit site]

Chicago Silver

Chicago Silver

Paul Somerson's incredible reference on handwrought metalwork from the American Arts and Crafts movement of the ear… [read review or visit site]

Silver Marks Encyclopedia

Silver Marks Encyclopedia

An extensive reference guide to silver marks, hallmarks, trademarks and maker's marks found on antique and vintage … [read review or visit site]

Silver at the Victoria and Albert

Silver at the Victoria and Albert

This is a great reference site on silver, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum. You can view silver items acc… [read review or visit site]

The Gilbert Collection

The Gilbert Collection

The late Sir Arthur Gilbert's collection of European silver, gold, enamel, and other items is now housed at the Vic… [read review or visit site]

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

“Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj” was the title of a 2008 exhibition at Columbia University’s Mi… [read review or visit site]

TheStieffCompany.com

TheStieffCompany.com

Scott Perkins is an enthusiastic evangelist for The Stieff Company, a significant Baltimore silversmith and maker o… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Most watched eBay auctions    

Antique Victorian Aesthetic Silverplate Pickle Castor Cut Glass Jar W/tongs YqzS Kirk & Son Sterling Silver Dragon Claw Ice Tongs Repousse Pattern 4 Pairs Of Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs3 Very Nice Pairs Of Antique Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs: English MarksP. Garrett Philadelphia Bright Cut Coin Silver Sugar Tongs Acorn Early AmericanStunning Set X 12 Victorian Silver Tea Spoons & Tongs, 1891, 231gmBoxed Set X 6 Solid Silver Tea Spoons & Tongs, 1926, 92gmRare Pair Silver Sugar Tongs, York 1800 Hampston, Prince & Cattles FiddleSilver & Glass American Vintage Pickle Jar Service Caddy With Tongs Set Of 6 Vintage Silver Plated Tea Spoons & Tongs In Fitted Case Lovely Antique Pair Solid Sterling Silver Wishbone Sugar Tongs Nips, 1913Pretty, Boxed Set X 6 Solid Silver Tea Spoons & Tongs, 1911, 76gmCased Set Of 6 Victorian Silver Plated Tea Spoons & Tongs In Fitted Case M & CoLot Of 6 Sterling Silver Cocktail Forks, Salts, & Sugar Tongs Marthinsen StieffPair George Iii Silver Sugar Tongs London 1816 William Bateman (44.4g)American Coin Silver Bright Cut Sugar Tongs (prob. James Wolf, Phila. C. 1830)4 Gorham Etruscan Sterling Silver Serving Pieces Sugar, Tongs, Cheese, Pie ForkAntique Solid 925 Sterling Silver Cutlery Large Elegant Sugar Tong Spoons 60gAntique Elkington & Co. Silver Plated Asparagus TongsHeavy Pair George Iv Silver Sugar Tongs London 1826 Charles Eley (64g)Pair Of Well-made Spanish 916/1000 Standard Solid Silver Hairy Paw Sugar TongsReed And Barton Silver Small Ice Tongs Or Sugar Tong Allen 1907Antique 19century Imperial Russian 84 Silver Sugar Tongs 30gramsWilliam 1v / Victorian Sugar Tongs London 1838Pair Wishbone Shaped Sugar Tongs, Hallmarked 'birmingham 1935'Boxed Set Of 6 Silver Tea Spoons & Sugar Tongs 1915Rare Vintage 1853 James & Josiah Williams Exeter Sterling Silver Tongs 55.8gVintage American Presidents Line Ship Ice Cube Claw Tongs By R. Wallace Georgian Silver Sugar Tongs - London 1798 - Stephen Adams I - Quality AntiqueVery Nice 1785 Hester Bateman Georgian Brightcut Sterling Silver Sugar TongsGeorgian Silver Sugar Tongs - 39 Gms.Vintage Ornate 830 Silver Scandinavian Serving Sugar TongsIrish, George Iii Silver Sugar Tongs, C1800, 34gmOrnate Vintage 1950/60s Interpur Silver Plate Scissor Action Cake Serving TongsLot Of Silverplated Old Vintage Antique Flatware Utensil Tongs Spoons Knives ForVintage Handmade Fine Quality Sterling Silver Duck Figural Pastry Dessert TongsFancy C1770 William Chatterton Georgian Sterling Silver Sugar Nips/tea TongsFancy 1760s Thos. & Wm. Chawner Georgian Sterling Silver Sugar Nips/tea TongsFancy 1760s William Chatterton Georgian Sterling Silver Sugar Nips/tea TongsSolid Sterling Silver Wishbone Shaped Sugar Tongs Birmingham 1929 Maker J.s & SVintage Lot Of 5 Spoons And 1 Sugar Tong 2.5 Oz -- 70 GramsGorham Sterling Silver & Gold Wash Sugar Cube Tongs Strasbourg PatternAntique N. Harding Coin Silver Sea Shell Feet Small Ice TongsVery Nice 1778-84 Hester Bateman Georgian Bright Cut Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs2 Pairs Of Pretty Antique Hand-engraved Solid Sterling Silver Sugar TongsTowle Rambler Rose Sterling Sugar TongsAntique Ep Silver Sugar Tongs ,r F Wilding ,c-1880,s,shell Pattern Tongs.,clawsSix Apostle Spoons And Matching Sugar Tongs Or Nips EpnsAntique Pair Of Small Silver Plated Sugar Tongs By Daniel & Arter C.1870-1890Antique Silver Sugar Tongs Sheffield 1902 Ref 143/12 Nice Pairs Of Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 1893 & 1923Extremely Rare 1720s Sterling Silver Sugar Nips/tea Tongs19th Century Wm. Durgin Sterling Ice Or Fruit Tongs Engraved W/swallowsOld Antique 925 Sterling Silver Rose Floral Sugar Tongs W/ Bird Claw Feet EndsGeorgian Silver Sugar Tongs 1808/09 - Solomon HoughamGeorgian Silver Sugar Tongs 1801/02 - Thomas Wallis IiJob Lot Of Vintage Spoons,sugar Tongs Etc Most Silver PlateVintage Reed & Barton Silverplate 7.5" Eagle Claw Ice Tongs - Monogrammed-"edb"New Multi-purpose Antique Genuine Silver Plate Serving Tongs.Victorian Silver Sugar Tongs Nips Chawner & Co George William Adams London 1882