Recently, I acquired a set of 4 silverplate strawberry forks in a Art Nouveau inspired pattern called Carnation. The forks were made by one of the ubiquitous “Rogers” silver manufacturers: William A. Rogers, Ltd. This collectable pattern was introduced in 1908.
The forks are diminutive and delicate in size, measuring only 5 inches in length with almost 2 inches of their length comprised of three fork times used for piercing the intended fruit. The handle is decorated with a bud at its very top and also two intricate and beautiful carnation blossoms exhibiting an almost three dimensional quality. The flowers possess a vibrant, ruffled texture that mimics an actual carnation and its petals quite well. The two stems of the main flowers move down the length of the fork handle where they are tied together with an almost imperceptible ribbon in an exquisite bow as if they are being presented to a loved one. The reverse of the fork features the underside of the 2 front flowers as if the carnations on the utensil were miniaturized, coated in a thin layer of gleaming silver and encased in the handle. The pattern is richly detailed yet simple, designed yet naturalistic, ornate yet understated. It’s just yummy.
The Carnation strawberry fork represents the proliferation of food specific utensils created by American silver manufacturers beginning around the last quarter of the 19th century. The strawberry fork was used to pierce a berry and then dip it in a bowl of sugar, whipped cream or sour cream. On one level, this proliferation was a strategic marketing ploy on the part of silver companies to sell more goods. And it was additionally a moment of growing consumer capitalism and the continuing emergence of a middle class with money to spend. Products were offered to the public not because they were just practical, functional or needed, but because they possessed a psychological, social and cultural value to a potential owner. The Carnation fork was not just used to eat strawberries, but rather it was testament to its owner’s social refinement and status for all to see at his dining table. Through this dining etiquette, it was an opportunity for the middle class to aspire to a higher social position even if the objects on that table were silverplate and not sterling. Thus, this diminutive fork conveyed meaning well beyond its size or function.
Furthermore, the Carnation pattern although produced by William A. Rogers, Ltd. was in actuality owned and controlled by the Carnation Milk Company. A consumer was able to acquire utensils in this pattern with proofs of purchase of Carnation milk products. It is an intriguing example of early 20th century cross marketing in which brand loyalty is rewarded with a chance to display one’s sophistication and class with a lovely piece of silverplate. The reign of the strawberry fork probably came to an end in the 1930’s, but since the Carnation pattern was a marketing strategy, it could have survived as a novelty item into the 1950’s.
So, now I will wait for summer when strawberries are truly in season. I will invite friends over for a Silver Strawberry Soirée and serve bright red, ripe berries. My guests will pierce the berries with the Carnation forks and dip them in fresh whipped cream or homemade zabligione and perhaps we will discuss how this small food implement could demonstrate the rise and continued dominance of consumer capitalism while simultaneously inspiring us with its aesthetic beauty.