Saturday, August 28, 2010

Silver Desire: 4 Edwardian Coffee Spoons


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.

mappinwebb09coffsp4Hallmark on the spoon, crown for Sheffield, lion passant for sterling, date letter for 1909, maker’s mark for Mappin & Webb

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.


mappinwebb09coffsp 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.

Image-Wienzeile40_c Detail of facade of Majolikahaus 1898-99 in Vienna by Otto Wagner- notice the motif on the balcony

anthemion_10161_lg 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.

kingsplatepastrySilverplate pastry forks in the Kings pattern, unknown maker, c.1920-30

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.kingsplatepastry  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.


  1. I love the way the swirl pattern carries on throughout from top to bottom. So much more imaginative and elegant than sticking slavishly to the shell theme in a matchy way. And the deeply embossed pattern looks very luxurious.

    I'm interested in your statement "today where a teaspoon must be a slave to all those functions and more, never be able to inhabit its true historical self." Would you mind explaining that more fully?

  2. Thank you Punctured Bicycle for your comment. As I understand it, most flatware patterns today do not have multiple spoons for multiple purposes. The teaspoon which in the past was only used for tea, now is used for coffee, dessert etc. and so has been made multi-functional which in one sense is practical yet also somewhat sad as flatware elegance in dining has gone by the wayside or at least in my 19th century obsessed mind. If you haven't read this post: it may explain more of what I am talking about in regard to flatware in the past.

    Best, K.

  3. Thanks for that. I'm interested in what you see as the' historical self' of the teaspoon.

    I suppose I was thinking that the modern teaspoon is playing its own role, thus inhabiting its own historical self, as multi-purpose tool. It's as though the teaspoon has triumphed in Darwinian fashion as the ultimate utensil, which says a great deal about our present day.

  4. I see your point PB. I guess to my nostalgic brain and eyes the "triumph" of the teaspoon strikes me as a bit sad and a loss of something. It is interesting that you bring up Darwin. His desire and the 19th century desire in general to classify the world seems to me to relate to the madness of silver utensils in the late 19th century. A specialized implement for every dish just as every animal, plant had a genus, a species and so on...

    Best, K.