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    

Rare 18th Century Irish Cast Silver Sugar Tongs Dublin Daniel Popkins AntiqueArt Deco Solid Silver Teaspoon Set Sugar Tongs Sheffield 1917 Hw Henry WilkinsonBaker-manchester Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs With Claw TipsBirmingham 1913 Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs - Joseph Gloster LtdIrish Silver Tea Tongs - Dublin C1760 - Fine Collectors ItemStunning Set X 12 Silver Tea Spoons & Tongs, 1926Antique Hallmarked Ornate Sterling Silver Ice Cube Tongs Patd 189147 Pcs. Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver For 8. Ladel,serving Spoons, Tongs,Beautiful Antique Sterling Silver Teaspoons & Sugar Tongs 1916, Boxed Antique Solid Silver Sugar Tongs. Edinburgh 1817. Charles Dalgleish.Antique 1910 Whiting Manufacturing Madam Morris Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs VtgVintage Pair Georg Jensen Denmark Sterling Ice Tongs Bernadotte Very Pretty Edwardian Ladies Solid Silver Sugar Tong Bangle 1903 Ideal GiftHeirloom Sterling Silver Damask Rose Sugar Cube Tongs .820 Toz 3.5 InchA Pair Of Heavy Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Sheffield 1922 P Ashberry & SonsDurgin Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs In The Iris Pattern Lovely Art Nouveau DesignPair Antique Silver Scissor Action Sugar TongsAntique Hallmarked Silver Sugar Tongs - Sheffield 1886 - John Round - 18 GramsA Pair Of Antique Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Birmingham 1913 Jones & CromptonSterling Silver Sugar Tongs 3 1/2 Inches Claw Foot Lion & Anchor HallmarkVintage Signed Sterling Silver Germany Scissor Pie Tongs Pastry Asparagus ServerWallace Sterling Sugar/olive Tongs - BeautifulChawner ( Ga ) Pretty Victorian Sterling Silver Bright Cut Sugar Tongs 1877Rare Georgian Sterling Silver Bright Cut Sugar Tongs C.1800Vintage Sterling Silver Hallmarked Spoons Tongs Photo Frame 94g TotalVintage S Kirk & Sons Sterling Silver Tongs 5 Digit Talons NrSterling Silver Sugar TongsVictorian Silver Sugar Tongs 1881 & Swivel Stick (0.925) Sterling Silver International Prelude Sugar Tongs .65 Troy Oz Scrap/use Birmingham 1904 Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs - Cooper Bros & SonsStunning Ladies Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tong Bangle * Only One Available *Set Of Vintage Sterling Silver Ice Tea Spoons With Straws Plus Sugar Cube TongsVintage Watson Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs King Phillip 1904Webster Sterling Silver Sugar TongsStunning Chunky Victorian Ladies Or Gents Solid Silver Sugar Tong Bangle 1851Two (2) Sterling Silver 925 Beautiful Birds Feet Detailed Sugar Tongs M1221A Pair Of George Iii Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs London 1791Sterling Silver Sugar TongsInternational Royal Danish Sterling Silver Sugar TongsAntique Sterling Silver Scissor Tongs Antique Solid Silver Sugar Tongs - Birmingham 1905, Charles Turman BurrowsVintage Sterling Silver Tongs Hallmarked 3 1/2" LongVintage Sterling Silver .925 Sugar Tongs Mexico Marked 17+ Gms Nice DesignSterling Silver Auction Antique Ornate Scissor TongsGorham Whiting Imperial Queen Pattern "b" Monogram 1893 Sugar Cube TongsStunning Victorian Ladies Solid Silver Sugar Tong Bangle 1889 * One Available *Towle Sterling Silver Old Master & Princess Sugar Cube Tongs - Lot Of 2 *42.5gr*Silver Sugar Cube TongsAntique 800 Silver Sugar TongsAntique Gorham Sterling King Albert Sugar Tongs 1919Antique Solid Silver Sugar Tongs. Newcastle 1837. Joseph Latimer.Vintage Solid Sterling Silver 925 Sugar Tongs 7.3 Grams, Scrap Or Not!Antique 1915 Sterling Silver Georg Jensen Danish Denmark Acorn Sugar Tongs"w" Hallmark Sugar Tongs -sterling Silver (.925) 21 Grams "a" MonogramAntique Silver Sugar Tongs Mustard Salt Spoon Acorn Babies Rattle Stopper X 5Antique Sterling Silver Cohr Danish Denmark Sugar TongsExcellent Solid Silver Cased Teaspoons And Tongs (sheffield 1917)Antique L. Kimball And Son Sugar Tongs, Sterling SilverAntique Sterling Silver Ornate Tongs 5"Vintage Alvin Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Claw Tips - 23.4 Grams .925 Silver