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 Marius Hammer Norway Norwegian Sterling Silver Plique-a-jour Sugar TongsHester Bateman 1780s Georgian Hallmarked Sterling Silver Sugar TongsSilver Kings Pattern Asparagus Tongs Sheffield 1909 Mappin & Webb Pierced BladesGorgeous Set 6 Double Struck Solid Sterling Silver Spoons & Sugar Tongs , 1903Rare & Top Quality Cased Silver Serving Tongs, Birmingham 1894 ElkingtonVintage Norwegian Solid Silver Gilt & Enamel Sugar Tongs Nips By David AndersonSuperb Solid Silver Victorian Asparagus TongsSterling Silver Hallmarked Sugar TongsAntique 950 Continental Sterling Silver Plique-a-jour Sugar Tongs 3 & 7/8"Unusual Pair Of Antique "harp" Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 1895/ L 11 CmLovely Antique Silver Plated And Mother Of Pearl Fruit Knife Butter Knife TongsStunning & Very Fine, Large Pair Of Christofle Silver Plated ' Asparagus ' TongsTowle Canterbury Sterling Silver Sugar TongsVintage 1930s Sheffield Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs/nips Viners (emile Viner)Fine Scottish Provincial Silver Sugar Tongs. Dundee C1800. Pot Of Lilies.Rare Danish Solid Silver Sugar Tongs Crafted By Christian F Heise 1923 Georgian Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs X 3 1820's Scrap Or CollectLovely Antique Solid Sterling Silver Georgian Sugar Tongs Newcastle C1810.Victorian Silver 6 Piece Teaspoons & Sugar Tong Set Chinese Asian Snake SerpentEdwardian Sterling Silver Cased Bright Cut Teaspoons & Sugar Tongs Cutlery 1908Pretty Pair Of Bright Cut Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 1803 Gbab/ 13.3 CmSilver Sugar Tongs Georg Jensen,denmark Sterling Silver Ice Tongs, Acorn Pattern 6.5" Long - Great!Pretty Air Of Antique Bright Cut Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 1801 SaPretty Pair Of Antique Bright Cut Solid Silver Sugar Tongs 1808 Sh/ L 13.8 Cm** Wallace Rhythm Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs** Lunt Chateau Sterling Silver Sugar TongsFrank M. Whiting Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs~george Iii Pattern Circa 1891Job Lot Vintage Silver Plate Sugar Tongs X 12 Plus 1 Stainless, W & H, Dixon EtcSterling Silver Sugar TongsPair Of Quality Hand-engraved Crested Solid Silver Sugar Tongs 1853/ L 14.2 Cm** Ssmc Grape Sterling Silver Sugar TongsVictorian Sterling Silver Cased Shell Teaspoons & Sugar Tongs Cutlery 1901Rare Set Of 6 Sterling Silver Apostle Tea Spoons & Tongs And Tea StrainerTiffany Sterling Small TongsPair Of Quality Antique Hand-engraved Solid Silver Sugar Tongs 1874/ L 14.2 Cm~vintage Beautiful Sterling Silver Claw Sugar Tongs~marked See PhotoHallmarked Silver Pair Of Sugar Tongs London 1932 By D F 24.8gVintage Sterling Silver Wm. B. Durgin Co. Bird Feet Sugar Tongs 15.9gVictorian Sterling Silver Cased Apostle Teaspoons & Sugar Tongs Cutlery 1898Antique Solid Sterling Silver Relief Decorated Sugar Tongs Or Nips Dated 1928Tiffany Floral Sterling Wishbone Tongs - Good Estate ConditionRare Vintage Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Sugar Cube Tongs Claws Antique Victorian Silver Sugar Tongs Nips London 1877Decorated Spanish Sterling Silver Claw Sugar Tongs. 48grSet Of 12 Art Deco Solid Silver Tea Spoons And Tongs Sheffield 1938 Deco CaseAntique Sterling Silver Ice Cube Tongs In Int'l Silver Co. Leichester PatternEdwardian Birmingham Hallmark 1906 Boxed Set 6 Solid Silver Tea-spoons & TongsVery Nice Solid Silver Victorian Sugar Tongs By Levi & Salaman, Birmingham 1898Superb Victorian Silver Asparagus Tongs - London 1865 - Francis Higgins Ii - 5ozGorham Strasbourg Sterling Sugar Tongs 4 3/4 InchesScottish Tongs Antique Sterling Silver Ziegler Edinburgh Circa 1820Woodpecker Sugar Tongs Possibly Silver?Beautiful Decorated Spanish Sterling Silver Ice Tongs. 107 Gr.Durgin Sterling Wishbone Sugar Tongs – Excellent Estate Condition33 Vtg Antique Silver Plate Tongs Lot Flatware Set Craft Grade & Better *30International Sterling Trianon Sugar Tongs - Excellent Estate ConditionVintage Sugar Ice Cube Mechanical Tong Olive Pick Claw Made In France Small 5" LSwedish Sockertangen Triump Claw Sugar Tongs Teve In Original Box Silverplate NrScottish Tongs Antique Sterling Silver Edinburgh 1822