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    

Set Of 6 Solid Silver Tea Spoons With Matching Sugar Tongs 1932 Walker & HallCased Solid Silver Sugar Tongs And Sifter Spoon [sheffield 1873]Vintage - Superb Set Of 6 Solid Silver Tea / Coffee Spoons + Tongs - BoxedReed And Barton Francis I 1st Sugar Cube Tongs Server Old Marking Mint No ReservFine Antique Chinese Export Solid Silver Naturalistic Small Sugar Tongs C1890Assorted Solid Silver Items, Scrap Or Use. Sugar Tongs, Napkin Ring, PeperetteVintage Sterling Silver Metal Ice Cube Or Sugar TongsAntique Gorham Buttercup Sterling Silver Rose Sugar Tongs 4 & 3/4" 38 Grams12 Antique Sterling Silver Albany Pattern Tea Spoons & Sugar Tong Set Dated 1899 Old - Francis I Pattern Sterling Silver Tongs 41.6 Grams NrAntique Hm Silver Sugar Tongs. Bright Cut Decoration. Hestyer Bateman 1780's.Set Of Six Victorian Boxed Silver Tea Spoons & Matching Tongs Sheffield 1898 R44Antique George W. Shiebler Sterling Silver Rose Sugar Tongs 4 & 1/4" 22 GramsOld Mark Gorham Sterling Chantilly Sugar TongsExeter C.1800 Silver Sugar Tongs, Joseph HicksOrange Blossom Sterling Silver Sugar Spoon, Sugar Tong, Butter Knife "used" Vintage Sterling Silver Sugar Cube Tongs, Fontaine, International Silver Co.Vintage Th Marthinsen Sterling Silver Viking Rose Claw Sugar Tongs Norway 330Heavy Solid Sterling Silver Victorian Shell Pattern Scottish Sugar Tongs 1857.A Superb Bright Cut Silver Suger Tongs By Peter & Ann Bateman C1795. LondonVictorian Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs: David And Lionel Spiers Birmingham 1888Beautiful Antique Sterling Silver Miniature Tongs Sugar Nips Floral Pattern NorPretty & Heavy Walker & Hall Sterling Silver Bright Cut Leaves Sugar Tongs 1900Vintage Sterling ~ Sugar Tongs ~ Simpson, Hall, Miller & Co. ~ Wallingford Ct. ~Antique Victorian Silver Sugar Tongs Sheffield 1896 Ref 119/2Rare Victorian Boxed Set Of Sterling Silver Apostle Tea Spoons & Sugar TongsVintage Simpson Hall & Miller Frontenac Lily Sterling Silver Sugar TongsAntique Silver Sugar Tongs Birmingham 1907 Ref 119/3Antique Lunt Sterling Silver Ice Tongs 3 & 3/4" 18 GramsAntique Whiting Mfg. Co. Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 3 & 5/8" 16 GramsAntique Chicago Sterling Silver 1909 Claw Sugar Tongs ColonialVintage Raimond Sterling Silver Maple Leaf Sugar TongsAntique Irene Pattern International Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 4 & 1/8" 19 GramAntique Gorham Lancaster Pattern Sterling Silver Rose Sugar Tongs 4" 22 GramsAntique Whiting Mfg. Co. Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 4 & 1/4" 23 GramsAntique Georgian Silver Sugar Tongs London 1817 Ref 119/1Antique Silver Sugar Tongs Birmingham 1940 Ref 881/2Antique Silver Sugar Tongs London 1944 Ref 119/4Royal Danish Sterling Silver Tongs No Reserve!Sterling Silver Sardine Tongs 30 Grams .925 Sterling Silver 4 1/2" Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs: Harrods (richard Woodman Burbridge) London 1928Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs: T Wilkinson And Sons (?) Birmingham 1910Antique Whiting Mfg. Co. Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 3 & 1/4" 9 GramsAntique Early Victorian Solid Silver Sugar Tongs; John Osment Exeter 18424 Pc Sterling Silver Lot. 3 Ladles,1 Sugar Tong. Use / Scrap 77 GramsFine Antique Heavy Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Ice Cube Tongs London 1901.Rare Antique Solid Silver Sterling Sugar Tongs Georgian 1828 London 42.8g Vtg Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs: James Deakin And Sons: Sheffield 1905Iraqi, Silver & Niello, Sugar Bowl & Tongs, C1920, 85gmPetite Whiting Sterling Silver Tongs Patented 1891 NrWeb Serving Tongs, Sterling Silver Handled1892 Birmingham Ornate Solid Silver Sugar Tongs Excellent Condition 14.8 Grams1890 London Solid Silver Sugar Tongs Excellent Condition 36.8 GramsSolid Silver Stunning Sugar Tongs Claw Ends By James Swann 1923 Birmingham