Personal Effects, April 15

By JERRY SAMPSON

Question: Jerry, do you know anything about the old custom of giving sterling silver teaspoons with a woman’s name engraved on them? I’ve found most of mine in North and South Carolina and one in Lexington. I look for spoons engraved with old fashioned names like Nellie, Hazel, and Viola.

The names are on the front of the handle and often there is a date on the back. The oldest one I have says “Xmas, 1893.” One has the name in the bowl of the spoon. Was the name that of the giver or the receiver?

I haven’t seen as many here in Kentucky so they must have been more popular deeper south. I keep mine in an old frosted glass spooner with yellow grape leaves on it. That’s something else we don’t see much of these days.

I always enjoy your mini-history lessons as you explain about old treasures.

Answer: You know I did just the same thing a few weeks ago. I was able to get into a scrap pile of silver that a friend of mine had. To my amazement, I found not one, not two, but three silver teaspoons with the name Florence engraved in the bowls. My great-grandmother was Florence Adams Holloway, so I had to save them from the smelters pot. They live in a spooner on the mantel in the dining room now.

I’d wager that this was a common friendship hobby that well-to-do young Victorian ladies did.

This is different from the more common souvenir spoon collecting that I think everyone did at one time.

I’d say that your dates are about right, 1880s to the turn of the last century. Likely the Jazz Age, bobbed hair and a newer free culture did away with the delicate habit of passing around spoons. I found very little in the way of actual references, but I’ve read several period magazine articles, that speak of young ladies “exchanging” spoons with names, dates and even special words or phrases engraved in or on the back of bowls or on handles.

Sometimes, when a young lady was about to be married girls would gift her with spoons, in her silver pattern, with names, as a keepsake of their childhood connections.

You know, in all the years that I’ve handled silver and antiques, I’ve never seen a boy’s name on a spoon, other than a baby item. So I guess it was a girls’ only type thing.

The names are fascinating to search for. That would make a great collection for someone to undertake. Collect silver spoons for all the female members of a family. Useful and meaningful too. Many times the engraving was done by hand with small chisels, not with a machine. Though today, even machine engraved items are becoming less and less seen. I’ve seen and found many in Kentucky.

I’d say that it wasn’t limited by geography, but was limited by finances. A young girl scraping it out as a maid or working in a department store was less likely to devote time and money to such frippery, even if she wanted to.

Spooners are excellent places to keep your “name” spoons. As the name implies, it was a vessel that spoons were kept in on a family dining table. Grab one and use it the next time you have a cup of tea or need a good spoon. Prices are going to run the gamut, depending on the maker, pattern, material and engraving. I’ve seen them anywhere from $15 to as high as $50 for really stellar examples. Thanks for a great question.