Shockingly, I have not added any new silver pieces to my collection since returning from England in April where I sinfully indulged my sterling obsession with a trip to The London Silver Vaults. I could not, however, resist these 4 coffee spoons made in Sheffield in 1909 by the respected maker Mappin & Webb which is still in business today.
The four spoons are most likely orphans from a set of 6 or 8 which was divided by death or loss or simply vanished into history. I imagine the spoons originally arrived in a satin lined box with Mappin & Webb, Sheffield printed in gold lettering. But even as orphans, they are still quite appealing aesthetically and practically. And I love the mad specificity of utensils in old silver- a 6” spoon solely for stirring tea alone, a slight smaller 4 1/2”-5” spoon for use with coffee, a larger 7” spoon for dessert- unlike today where a teaspoon must be a slave to all those functions and more, never be able to inhabit its true historical self.
The Edwardian coffee spoons measure 4 5/8” in length. Stylistically, the spoons demonstrate the influence of Art Nouveau in the double infinity swirl of the handle and the undulating twisted character of the stem terminating in a beautifully sculpted and stylized yet naturalistic oval shell bowl with a scalloped edge. The center of the bowl is worked as well with the furrows of an actual shell. It is embellished by a pair of swirling volutes which form a heart shape- a typical Art Nouveau motif with origins in the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The motif in the spoon bowl is also a classical element called an anthemion which are stylized petals or leaves reminiscent of honeysuckle or palm leaves. This motif is found commonly in classical art and architecture and obviously fit well into the Art Nouveau style as well. The anthemion detail of the spoons complements the shell bowl too which can also be considered a classical element.
The spoons are not only influenced by the Art Nouveau style and classical art and architecture, but they are also reminiscent of an older, more traditional pattern such as Kings which was produced since the second half of the 19th century in the use of a shell motif. The deployment of this motif besides classical in nature is also suggestive of the Rococo as is the the delicacy and the swirls of the coffee spoons. One could argue quite persuasively that the Art Nouveau movement is a modern reinterpretation of the the 18th century French style. The sinuous, organic, and sensuous nature of the art and design of the early 20th century is simultaneously, although historically distinct, the essence of the Rococo. This dynamic of old and new makes these spoons even more aesthetically appealing to me and I look forward to using them at my table.