The knife and spoon are believed to be the first eating and food preparation implements. While the knife was common in one form or another among all classes of ancient society, the spoon was more of a luxury item, present in the kitchens of the wealthy, but rare amongst the general population.
Well into the Middle Ages, the silver spoon was proper to the upper classes. Also, utensils were not common place at table settings. Guests usually arrived with their own. In many places, only dining guests who arrived at an inn with their own utensils were welcome to stay and partake of a meal, for it was almost certain that they also had the means to pay for the sustenance they received. A lack of spoon or knife was a clear indication of poverty, or of belonging to the lower, undeserving class.
It is in great part this connection to wealth and class that transformed the common spoon into such an objet d’art. Ornate spoons were offered as baptismal gifts and we have all heard of the dowry chest, filled with a family’s most cherished and most beautiful silverware, offered to a husband-to-be by his new bride’s family.
The expression “Born with a silver spoon in his mouth” is revealing. This says a lot about one’s social standing. Interestingly, silver was known to react to spoiled or tainted food by turning black. Thus the silver spoon also refers to the utensil’s ability to alert its owner regarding the quality of the food it touched or a possible attempt to cause his or her demise.
From the colonies of the early 1600’s to well into the 20th century, European immigrants left their homes for America with very little in way of possessions, but there is one thing many had in common: a treasured box of silverware. In most cases, this was their most tangible and deeply meaningful connection to their history and roots, as well as one of their most valuable belongings.
It is no surprise, then, that such a significant object, one that inspired fine design and artistry, should also inspire personal ornamentation. Even the elegance of a mere, plain spoon or fork is undeniable; as if nature itself had dictated their shape. Both resemble at once a delicate flower and a robust leaf from a plant that has grown to withstand the elements and time itself.
But there is more to it. Spoons are an especially poignant testimony of time, trials and tribulations. They speak of great abundance shadowed by great famine, of slowly simmering stews awaiting tired laborers, fathers and their sons, even slaves. They link us to grandmothers and great-grandmothers we have never known, but to whom we feel close nonetheless, because the story of their challenges, joys and journeys is encrypted in the blood that flows through our veins as much as it is encrypted in the tired, worn design on the spoon their own fingers have held a thousand times.
When we turn these beautiful silver implements into jewelry, it is not so much to give them new life as it is because we are inspired to keep them close to our hearts, like an embrace from the past.
Silvio made a few sliver spoon rings a while back. Today, he is shaping an heirloom silver spoon into a bracelet, adorning it with minuscule diamonds and a ruby the owner of the spoon provided. It belonged to her grandmother. See photos of the completed bracelet in Part 2 of this article.
Meanwhile, here is a fascinating article pertaining to Vermont silverware: Saving Vermont History, One Silver Spoon at a Time.
Resource of Interest: Collectors Weekly