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

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1 Kg Lot Of Solid Silver Antiques Tray Spoon Tongs Vase Pill Box Sterling ScrapAntique Walker & Hall Solid 925 Sterling Silver Cutlery Spoons & Tong 99gVintage Georg Jensen Pyramid Tongs & Horn Knife + Acorn Knife Sterling Silver Fine Heavy Antique Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 1842 Henry Holland Kings PatternAntique Georgian Bright Cut Solid Silver Sugar Tongs 1790 Thomas Northcote NrAntique Cased Set George V Silver Teaspoons & Tongs, 1912, 121 Grams Antique Sterling Silver Bean Handle Tea / Coffee Spoons & Sugar Tongs Dated 1883Georgian & Victorian Solid Silver Sugar 3 Tongs London Mint ConditionSterling Silver Toast Tongs Very Ornate Old Estate 6 Inch 1.42 TozGeorgian Silver Sugar Tongs London Antique William Sumner 1792 18th Century Wishbone Novelty Tongs Sterling Silver Birmingham 1926 Britaine Hallmark Antique Sterling Silver Sugar Cube Claw Shaped Tong 21.8gVintage Art Deco Modernist Georg Jensen Acorn Sterling Silver Sandwich Tongs4 Prs Antique Sterling Silver Claw Sugar/ Tongs, Gorham, Silvercraft, Perfect!Antique French Sterling Silver Tongs W/ Paw Claws, Raised Cartouche DesignSterling Silver Bon Bon Tongs. - Whiting Mfg. Louis XvGeorg Jensen Hallmarked Silver Sugar Nips/tongs. 1948. London Import Mark.Antique Hallmarked Silver Sugar TongsSmall Pair Solid Silver, Sugar Tongs. Biringham 1910.Pair Of Victorian Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs: Birmingham 1895Vintage Gorham Sterling Silver Tongs - 5-inch; 44 Grams - Super Nice!Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs And Bon Bon Nut Spoon S Kirk & Son 2.78 OzsTiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs With Gilded ClawsVintage Tiffany & Co. Sterling Sugar Tongs Pat. 1909 Approx. 1 Troy OunceGeo. Vi Silver Sugar Tongs By Emile Viner, Bath St. Then Broomhall St. SheffieldExcellent Solid Silver Sugar Tongs Hallmarked 36 GramsAntique Gorham Versailles Sterling Silver Tongs With CherubsOld Hallmarked Silver Large Sugar TongsEdwardian, Solid Silver, Bright-cut Sugar Tongs €1700s Antique Estate Sale Sterling Silver Tongs 36 GramsSolid Silver Apostle Sugar Tongs 1910Antique English Sterling Silver Sugar / Ice Serving TongsSuperb Victorian Fiddle 1852 Silver Wallis Hallmarked Sugar Tongs 43g Sterling Silver Sugar TongSugar Tongs Antique 3 Pairs Good ConditionAntique Russian Sterling Silver 875 Sugar Tongs. 1930-40ss.Vintage 1940 Westmorland John & Priscilla Pattern Sterling Silver Sugar TongsSterling Silver Antique Bon Bon Tongs Webster Company Wsc34 Pattern2 Pairs Old Silver Plated Sugar Tongs-embossed & Art DecoNorwegian Antique Marthinsen Silver 830s "lillemor" Pastry Sandwich Tongs 8" Antique Tiffany Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Patent 1872Sterling Silver Mini Tongs