Another archaic 19th century tabletop item in silver that I love to collect is known as a spooner. It was considered an essential serving item used to hold and display teaspoons most often as part of a standard tea set of teapot, creamer, sugar bowl and waste bowl. The spooner emerged in the Victorian era after 1850 and was made in a variety of materials, metal, porcelain and glass. They went out of fashion by the 1930’s.
The display of one’s teaspoons in a spooner indicated a ready and visible hospitality for potential guests and was also a mark of status for the emerging middle class who for a variety of economic and cultural factors could by the late 19th century afford silver or at the very least its facsimile. In this new consumer era, the middle class wanted to demonstrate its social standing and its sense of fashion.
The spooner is further a good example of how consumer capitalism develops ever more products that we are supposed to want, to need in order to have a successful and happy life. By introducing the spooner as a must-have, silver manufacturers had yet another item to sell to consumers that not only had a specialized function, but was also meant to convey the distinction and class of its owner, just as the proliferation of use specific flatware exploded during this period as well. There was not just one fork for the dining table. To be fashionable, to have status, one had to have a dinner fork, a fish fork, a strawberry fork, an oyster fork, a pastry fork and so on into madness. This proliferation was not only of course a way to sell more products, but a way to psychologically sell an aura of refinement, breeding and taste, further suggests the need of 19th century culture to classify, to divide, to specialize and to ultimately subjugate materially and conceptually the entire world.
My Silver Spooners
I presently have 5 spooners in my silver collection. Four are Victorian silverplate and one is made of sterling from 1915. Of the four 19th century pieces, 2 have the two handled vase-shape. This particular form is a distinctly American invention and not found elsewhere. It was most prominent in the 1850’s and 1860’s. By the 1870’s spooners were considered an essential part of a complete tea service.
The Rogers Smith & Company spooner features a vase shape with a dimpled textured background with stylized flowers and can be considered aesthetic in style. Seemingly applied in low relief on this Japanese metalwork inspired background is a fish, coral branches, a shell, a crab and a dragonfly. The applying of naturalistic creatures to a piece of metalwork indicates the influence of Japanese art. There are higher end aesthetic pieces in sterling by such firms as Gorham and Whiting that use this technique of applying creatures in relief to a holloware or flatware form as well. Often these animals are fashioned in another metal such as copper. The Rogers spooner is a more mass market derivative of such pieces as the creatures are not applied, but part of the original die of the piece.
Like the Rogers Smith & Company, this Pairpoint spooner also has the typical vase shape with 2 handles on 4 elaborate feet. Since Pairpoint was founded in 1880, the piece was made sometime after that date. I suspect it was made sometime during that decade because of the fan motif of the handles which mildly suggests the Japanese inspired aesthetic style.
The vase form and its banded decoration of what I think are laurel leaves with berries, however, is decidedly unaesthetic in style and seems at odds with the handles of the spooner. When dealing with silverplate, it is always important to remember that the dies used to produce plate items are quite valuable and are often used over a long period of time. Often, dies were sold between manufacturers so similar if not the same forms and styles appear from one manufacturer to another. Perhaps, Pairpoint bought this older spooner form from another company (the heyday of vase shaped spooners was the 1850’s and 60’s) and then added more fashionable handles to the older model in order to update the piece. Just a silverplate guess.
Silverplate Trio by the Pairpoint Manufacturing Company, Bedford, Massachusetts, after 1880.
The third Victorian piece in my collection is part of a trio of a creamer, sugar bowl and spooner also by Pairpoint. These trios called “Dessert Sets” emerged around 1890. The style of this set unlike my other Pairpoint spooner is markedly aesthetic in style with its emphasis on naturalism and its nod to Japanese art. Set amongst bamboo, leaves and a variety of seemingly fanciful flowers there is a profusion of birds and insects. It is quite a beautiful and elaborate pattern.
The fourth spooner is a spoon rack and not a vessel to hold the spoons. It can hold 6 teaspoons. These type of spooners are harder to find today and date from the 1870’s onward.
The last spooner in my collection is in sterling by Gorham and dates from 1915. In contrast to the elaborate fussiness of Victorian spooners, this piece is more restrained and simple with a slight Rococo revival feel with its swirling forms. The small, shallow tray form for holding spoons is quite an old type dating back to the early 18th century. The Gorham spooner while reminiscent of this shape is slightly more designed in nature. The footprint of the spooner is a figure 8 to more snugly hold the spoons. Also, the sides of the spooner dip down in the center to allow one to easily remove one teaspoon at a time.
When I entertain, I love to use the items in my silver collection. The spooners are always a conversation piece and are wonderful for holding teaspoons when having a dessert buffet. I hope my spooners convey hospitality to my guests as they did more than 100 years ago to ghosts that perhaps still surround them.