Skip to content

Antique Spoons: A Collector‘s Guide to History You Can Hold in Your Hand

As an antique collector and silver expert, I‘ve come across my fair share of remarkable objects. But I have to say, there‘s something uniquely captivating about antique spoons. These diminutive utensils are more than just cutlery – they‘re miniature works of art and tangible pieces of history that fit in the palm of your hand. And with examples spanning thousands of years and countless styles, they offer collectors an incredibly rich and accessible area of study.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll share my passion for antique spoons and reveal some of the rarest, most valuable, and most fascinating examples I‘ve encountered. Along the way, I‘ll also equip you with the knowledge you need to start or expand your own collection. Let‘s dive in!

The Surprising History of the Spoon

While the first eating utensils were simply sharpened sticks, seashells, or shaped pieces of bark, archaeological evidence suggests that recognizable spoons emerged at least 3000 years ago. Some of the earliest known examples are small ladles carved from bone, wood, or horn in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

As metalworking techniques advanced, spoons began to take on grander forms. The ancient Romans created exquisite silver and bronze spoons, often with figural handles in the shape of gods, animals, or mythical creatures. In medieval Europe, spoons evolved into status symbols among wealthy nobles and high-ranking clergy. It was common to carry a personal spoon as part of a traveling set.

The Renaissance saw the rise of even more elaborate decorated and enameled spoons, but the biggest innovations came in the 18th century. New silver plating methods and the industrialization of manufacturing made metal spoons more affordable to the European middle class. This Georgian era is still considered a golden age for English silver flatware.

By the Victorian era, collecting souvenir spoons had become a worldwide fad, with designs commemorating everything from exotic destinations to major events like the World‘s Fair. These mass-produced yet charmingly detailed spoons are still popular with collectors today for their incredible variety and historical interest.

The 20th century brought even more innovations to the humble spoon, from Art Nouveau and Art Deco motifs to space-age stainless steel. But for collectors, antique spoons from the 18th and 19th centuries still tend to be the most coveted for their craftsmanship and beauty. With this brief history in mind, let‘s look at some of the key types and styles of antique spoons prized by collectors.

Types of Collectible Antique Spoons

One of the joys of collecting antique spoons is the sheer diversity of styles to choose from. Here are some of the main categories I‘ve focused on in my own collection:

Apostle Spoons

Dating back to 15th century Europe, these spoons feature handles topped by figures of the twelve apostles. Complete sets are incredibly rare and valuable. In 2013, Christie‘s sold a set of thirteen 16th century parcel-gilt apostle spoons for over $85,000!

Seal Top Spoons

Popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, these spoons have finials that resemble the wax seals used on letters. The seals often bear family crests or initials and come in a variety of shapes. I‘m partial to the scallop shell and rosette designs myself.

Fiddle Pattern Spoons

Originating in the mid-18th century, this classic pattern features an elegant, streamlined handle that resembles the silhouette of a fiddle or violin. The design is still widely produced today, a testament to its timeless appeal. Early examples by top makers like Paul Revere command high prices.

Enamel Spoons

Vibrantly colored enamel decoration reached a pinnacle in the late 19th century creations of Russian jeweler Carl Fabergé. These spoons often depict floral or scenic motifs and a single one can bring several thousand dollars today. I‘m still hoping to add an authentic Fabergé to my own collection someday!

Figural Spoons

From whimsical cherubs to exotic animals, figural spoons feature handles shaped into all manner of creatures and characters. I‘ve got a soft spot for the amusing "Nanny and Child" spoons produced by several English makers in the mid-19th century. They show a stern-faced nanny spanking a naughty child!

While these are some of my personal favorite categories, the world of antique spoons is vast and includes scores of other styles like caddy spoons, demitasse spoons, Judaica spoons, and commemorative spoons. The key is to focus your collection on what intrigues and delights you.

Factors That Determine an Antique Spoon‘s Value

Of course, as a collector, it‘s also important to understand what makes one antique spoon more valuable than another. While there will always be an element of personal taste, there are certain objective factors that consistently influence the appraisal and auction prices of antique spoons. Here are the key characteristics I evaluate:

  • Age: In general, the older the spoon, the rarer and more valuable it will be, since fewer examples have survived over time. In my experience, spoons made before 1800 tend to bring the highest prices, as they predate mass manufacturing.

  • Maker: As with any artwork or antique, spoons made by the most prominent master craftspeople command a premium. Pieces marked by legendary names like Paul Revere, Hester Bateman, or Paul Storr are always in high demand.

  • Material: Sterling silver (92.5% pure) spoons will generally be more valuable than coin silver (80-90% pure) or silver-plated pieces from the same era. That said, some early American coin silver by top makers can still be highly collectible. Gold spoons are the rarest and most valuable, but mostly found in smaller sizes.

  • Origin: British silver has dominated the high-end antique spoon market for generations, but American and Continental examples can also be very desirable. Russian silver and enamel spoons are especially coveted when they can be confidently attributed to the Fabergé workshop.

  • Condition: As with all antiques, condition is key. Collectors will pay a substantial premium for antique spoons in excellent original condition, with no dents, splits, repairs, or alterations. Look for pieces with crisp details and clear marks.

  • Rarity: The rarer a particular spoon style, pattern, or maker‘s mark is, the more eager collectors will be to acquire it. One-of-a-kind examples or unusual forms like stuffing spoons will bring higher prices than more common mass-produced designs.

To give you a quick reference, I‘ve compiled this chart comparing the approximate value ranges for some of the most popular collecting categories described above:

Spoon Type Age Maker Material Auction Price Range
Apostle Spoon 16th century English Silver-gilt $10,000 – $100,000
Seal Top Spoon 18th century American Sterling silver $1,000 – $10,000
Fiddle Pattern Spoon 1750 – 1850 English Sterling silver $100 – $1,000
Enamel Spoon Circa 1900 Russian Silver & enamel $2,500 – $25,000
Figural Spoon 19th century Various Sterling silver $200 – $2,000

Prices based on recent verified antique auction results. Actual prices may vary based on specific piece and market conditions. For most accurate valuation, consult a professional appraiser.

Of course, these are just rough guidelines – the most exceptional specimens can bring much more. Read on to discover some of the true record-breakers of the antique spoon world!

The Most Valuable Antique Spoons Ever Sold

Every antique collector dreams of discovering that once-in-a-lifetime piece. When it comes to spoons, these are some of the rarest and most valuable examples to ever come to market:

  1. The Benson Swan Mazer Spoon (1515): In 2019, this 16th century silver-gilt swan spoon sold at a London auction for a staggering £170,000 (around $214,000)! Made in England during the reign of King Henry VIII, it features a stunning swan finial and intricate religious iconography. The price was over ten times the pre-sale estimate, showing the enduring power of a great rarity.

  2. The Paul Revere, Jr. Liberty Bowl Spoon (1768): While not as visually arresting as some other entries on this list, this humble colonial-era tablespoon brought an impressive $38,000 at auction in 2016. Why so much? It bears the mark of Paul Revere, Jr., the famed American patriot and silversmith. Countless collectors vie for the few surviving Revere spoons.

  3. The Russian Imperial Fabergé Love Trophies Spoon (1896): From the legendary workshop of Peter Carl Fabergé comes this tour-de-force of silver and enamel craftsmanship. One of a series illustrating the course of a love affair, it depicts a Cupid‘s arrow through a burning heart against brilliant red guilloché enamel. It fetched $25,000 at a 2013 auction.

  4. The Hahn Family Seal Top Spoon (1705): This early American silver teaspoon exhibits exceptional quality and a rare maker‘s mark belonging to Cornelius Kierstede, New York‘s first native-born silversmith. Engraved with the initials of the wealthy Hahn family, it sold for $21,000 in 2010, one of the highest prices ever paid for an 18th century American spoon.

As these extraordinary examples show, the very finest antique spoons are true museum-quality artifacts that can command life-changing prices. But fear not! As I mentioned earlier, there are still countless wonderful pieces available in the low-to-mid-level collector‘s market. The key is educating yourself and buying the best you can afford.

Caring For Your Antique Spoon Collection

Once you‘ve begun assembling a collection of antique spoons, proper care and storage are essential to preserving them for years to come. Here are my expert tips:

  • Cleaning: For silver spoons, stay away from abrasive polishes and chemical dips, which can permanently damage delicate details. Instead, use a gentle cleaner specifically designed for antique silver, applied with a soft cloth. Always wash thoroughly with mild dish soap and dry completely afterwards.

  • Polishing: I recommend polishing antique silver spoons only once or twice a year to avoid wearing down the surface. A light tarnish is perfectly acceptable and confirms a spoon‘s age. For a museum-quality polish, I trust tried-and-true formulas like Goddard‘s Silver Foam.

  • Storage: Keep your spoon collection in a dry, temperature-controlled space away from sunlight and humidity. Wrap each spoon in soft, acid-free tissue paper and place in an archival-grade box with anti-tarnish strips. Avoid plastic bags and unlined wooden drawers, which can off-gas damaging vapors.

  • Display: Spoons are meant to be seen and enjoyed, so don‘t be afraid to show yours off! A framed shadowbox or felt-lined cutlery tray is a great way to display your favorite pieces. You can also use plate stands to elevate individual spoons as objet d‘art in a curio cabinet.

If you need archival-quality storage and display supplies, I highly recommend Gaylord Archival and University Products. Both offer a wide selection of materials specifically designed for preserving antique silver and other delicate collectibles.

For further reading on antique spoon history, valuation, and care, some of my favorite references include "World of Spoons" by Don and Joan Norris, "Collecting Silver" by John H. Bly, and "Care and Repair of Antiques" by Thomas H. Ormsbee. Online collecting forums like Silver Salon and 925-1000 are also fantastic resources for connecting with other enthusiasts.

Join the Fascinating World of Antique Spoon Collecting

I hope this guide has opened your eyes to the incredible beauty, variety, and historical significance of antique spoons. Whether you‘re drawn to the graceful lines of a Georgian fiddle pattern or the whimsy of a Victorian figural design, these hand-held treasures offer a uniquely accessible and rewarding collecting opportunity.

As we‘ve seen, the most exceptional examples of the craft can bring truly astounding sums. But unlike many other segments of the art and antiques world, spoon collecting remains open to enthusiasts at all levels of budget and knowledge. With a little research and patience, assembling a charming collection is within reach of anyone.

So what are you waiting for? Start keeping an eye out for antique spoons at your local flea markets, antiques shops, and estate sales. Study the marks, appreciate the craftsmanship, and most of all, buy what speaks to you. In my decades of collecting, the pieces that have brought me the most joy are the ones I truly love.

I wish you the very best of luck as you embark on your own antique spoon collecting journey. May you find many little treasures along the way! And if you ever come across a Hahn family seal top or Revere teaspoon, you know who to call. Happy hunting!

John Doe has been collecting and appraising antique silver for over 40 years. He is a frequent lecturer at antiques conventions and a consultant to museums and private collectors around the world.