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    

Antique Georgian Solid Silver Scissor Sugar TongsLot Of Antique Sterling Purse Tiffany Sugar Tongs Enamel Lorgnette Stork SpoonAntique 18th Century English Bright Cut Sterling Silver Asparagus Tongs 9 & 3/4"Antique Sterling Silver Humpty Dumpty Sugar Tongs/nips, Nursery Rhyme, 36 GramsAntique 1795 London England William Eley I Sterling Silver Asparagus Tongs 12"Estate Lot Antique Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Berry Spoon Serving Fork Gorham +Vintage Wallace Sterling Silver Grand Baroque Sugar Tongs Excellent No ReserveBoxed Set 6 Hallmarked Silver Teaspoons & Sugar Tongs 1903 Sheffield 86 GramsSheffield Hallmarked Set Of 6x Silver Teaspoons + Sugar Tongs 1930-316 Antique Solid Silver Tea Coffee Spoons & Sugar Tongs Hm1906 Not Scrap 64g NrVintage Sterling Silver Iceland Cake Server And Silver Plate Spoons & Sugar TongEdwardian Silver Apostle Tea Spoons & Tongs - London 1903- William Hutton & SonsBirmingham Celtic Silver Spoon 1901 & London Foliate Silver Sugar Tongs 18992 Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Wallace Rose Point + 1 Other No Reserve Nice LookGood Heavy French Solid Silver Georgian Sugar Tongs Nips Late 18th Early 19thcAntique Silver Wishbone Sugar Tongs Scottish William Robb Ballater Circa 1890 Gorgeous Gorham Sterling Silver Buttercup Sugar Tongs Nr Pair Antique Georgian Silver Sugar Tongs Bright Cut C1790 London John Lambe Antique Chester H'm Sterling Silver 6 Tea Spoons & Sugar Tongs Set Dated 1890Sterling Silver Large 10.5" Salad Serving Tongs W/oval & Square Ends Mexico 91gAntique 1779 Jonathan Mappin, Sheffield, England Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 28g2 Paiis Of Antique Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs, 1889/1898Antique 1800 John Bull, London, England Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 5 & 1/2"5 Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs No Reserve Collection Of Fine Estate SilverRare Mint Victorian Kings Husk 1858 Elizabeth Eaton Silver Sugar Tongs 77g SGorham Aesthetic Sterling Figural Olive Dish W Matching Olive Tongs C1887Antique Cased Set Of 6 Tea Spoon & Tongs. B'ham 1935. 98 G1916 Antique Set Of 6 James Dixon Solid Silver Tea Spoons & Tongs Cased 117gPair Of Georgian Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Circa London 1750 Robert Albin CoxLot Of Sterling Silver Flatware Cup Cosmetics Box Tongs 8.4+ OztSet Of Four Antique Silver Tea Spoons & Matching Sugar Tongs London 1909 R874/7Boxed Set Of 6 Solid Silver Tea Spoons & Sugar Tongs, Sheffield 1926.925 Sterling Silverset Of Plique A Jour Tongs And Shrimp ForkVintage Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs W/ Koi Fish Design * Choi Fish Antique Irish 925 Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Victorian Dublin 41g 5 3/4"Pr Antique Georgian Silver Sugar Tongs Bright Cut 1790 London William Champion Fine Solid Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Birmingham 1931 Barker Brothers Silver.Scottish Kings Tongs Sterling Silver Glasgow 1858 George Iii Silver Sugar Tongs, 1790 - ExeterGeorge Iii Silver Sugar Tongs, C1790Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs Heavy Kings Pattern Victorian 1901 Sterling / Solid Silver Sugar Tongs / NipsAntique Lunt Silversmiths John Hancock Pattern Sterling Silver Sugar Tongs 4"Beautiful Rare Size Art Nouveau Sterling Silver Sugar Nips Or TongsRare Kings Pattern Sterling Asparagus Tong By Goldsmiths Of London 19053 Rare Towle Sterling Silver Arts & Crafts Sugar Tongs No Reserve Thick Heavy NrGorham Imperial Chrysanthemum Sterling Ice Tongs 6 1/4", Rare, Important!!!Vintage Rogers, Lunt & Bowen Sterling Sugar Tongs Shaped Like Ice TongsAntique Georgian Silver Sugar Tongs London 1808 P & W Bateman Ref 874/6Antique Silver Sugar Tongs Sheffield 1925 Ref 874/4Antique Silver Sugar Tongs Sheffield 1903 Ref 874/5Vintage Sterling Silver 5pc Lot Serving Utensils Spoons Tongs Not ScrapVintage Sterling Talon Sugar TongsGeorgian Silver Tongs London 1800 By P, A And W BatemanWebster Sterling Silver Pierced Handle Series Sugar Tongs;a747Georgian Silver Sugar Tongs London 1834 By James BeebePair Of Antique Solid Silver Sugar Tongs, Knights In Armour Either SideVintage 3.75" Sterling Silver Olive Sugar Pickle TongsAntique Silver Sugar Tongs Sheffield 1918 Ref 927/4Antique Silver Sugar Tongs Sheffield 1937 Ref 874/3