George Washington (Galt)

The Craze For Collecting Souvenir Spoons

By: Robert M. Wilhelm, Editor
      Spooners Forum

The mania for collecting souvenir spoons in the United States began about 1890; the "souvenir spoon craze," as it was called in the newspapers at the time, lasted for nearly 30 years. Thousands and thousands of souvenir spoons were sold in every city, town, village and hamlet throughout the country from Florida to Maine and from Washington to San Francisco (and even Hawaii). There was virtually no part of the country that was not besieged by the desire and rage to collect souvenir spoons.


Martha and George Trademarks

Why did this mania happen? In Europe, beginning about the time of the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London (1851), there developed a brisk trade in the production of souvenir spoons which travelers who visited various cities purchased to remind them of their visit. Soon late 19th century American travelers returning from Europe brought back with them souvenir spoons from the various cities which they had visited. Two American silversmiths, both of whom had traveled extensively in Europe (M. W. Galt of Washington, DC and Seth F. Low of Salem, MA), are generally credited with being the individuals who transplanted the European "fad" (or practice) of collecting souvenir spoons to America; then these entrepreneurs proceeded to capitalize on the souvenir spoon market in the United States.

Today, souvenir spoon collectors are divided into two camps with regard to which souvenir spoon set off the spoon mania of the 1890s: was it the souvenir spoons with the likenesses of George & Martha Washington (sold by M. W. Galt) or was it the Salem Witch spoons (sold by Daniel Low)? Both Galt and Low recognized the financial gains to be achieved by making souvenir spoons to commemorate historic American sites and persons.

Spoons with the image of George Washington, made by M. W. Galt (Washington, DC) were on the market as early as May 11, 1889 (perhaps even late 1888); a spoon with the likeness of Martha Washington was for sale by October 1, 1889. Al though these designs were never patented, they were registered as trademarks  by M. W. Galt Bro. & Co. on May 3, 1890 (Martha - U.S. Pat. No. 18,080; George - U.S. Pat. No. 8.081 a full year after they were being sold to the public. Thousands of   and abroad.


First Pattern Witch Spoon (Daniel Low)

The first of the Salem Witch Souvenir Spoons hit the spoon market on or about October 1st, 1890. Designed by Seth F. Low for his father, Daniel Low, and manufactured by the William B. Durgin Company of Concord, NH, this First Pattern Witch Spoon (Figure 3) was an immediate financial success. On the handle is the figure of a witch, the word "Salem," and three witch pins. Initially three sizes were made: tea spoon ($2.00), coffee spoon ($1.25) and orange spoon with a tear-drop-shaped bowl ($2.25). To market this spoon, Low placed a full-page ad in the Saturday Evening Post. This resulted in orders totaling more than $3,000 from allover the world. Soon additional sterling silver pieces (15 in total) were produced, among which were: sugar spoon, almond scoop, sardine fork, butter spreader and oyster fork.  

So popular and profitable was this first Witch Spoon that Low produced a Second Pattern of the now "famous" Witch Spoon. Manufactured by the Gorham Corporation, the handle of the second pattern featured those things associated with witch- craft delusion in the United States: the place and date, the cat, the broom, the rope, the witch pins, the new moon, and on the finial, the witch herself. The second pattern greatly expanded on the elements of witchcraft by the addition of the cat, the broom and the rope precisely those things being "hyped" at the time as part of the Salem Witch tradition. Once again, Low's entrepreneurial genius was at work as he appealed to those who were "now crazed for souvenir spoons.'" In 1891, Low published a 10-page mail order souvenir catalog (the first of its kind) - thousands of which were distributed throughout the country (this catalog, if one can find it today, is extremely collectible). It was not, however, until January 13, 1892, that Low registered the "Witch" trademark (U.S. Patent No. 18,838). The two "Witch" spoons appealed to the ornate Victorian tastes of the period and many will credit Low's spoons with starting "the spoon craze" which spread from New England to all parts of the country.

The 1890s was the "golden era" of souvenir spoon production. At the end of the year 1890, there were only about five souvenir spoons patented or in production in America; by May 1891, there were hundreds on the market. More patent designs were issued for souvenir spoons during this decade than for the entire period from 1790 to 1873 or after 1900. The 1890s witnessed cutting-edge innovation in the making of souvenir spoons: this decade saw the production of cast spoons (i.e. souvenir spoons made according to the lost wax process); the perfection of engraving and bright cut decoration; the introduction of embossed designs in spoon bowls and on handles; and, the production of exquisite enameled spoons which today are considered miniature works of art. The plethora of souvenir spoons being produced in 1891 were collected together in a list published in Jewelers' Circular. Two illustrated souvenir spoon catalog books were published: Souvenir Spoons of the 90s (published by Jewelers' Circular) and Souvenir Spoons: Containing Descriptions and Illustrations of the Principal Designs Produced in the United States by George B. James (Boston, 1891) [Reprinted copies of the James catalog are available from American Spoon Collectors - address below}. These two books are major resources for collectors today since they provide critical information about when specific souvenir spoons were placed on the market; furthermore, they are a fascinating barometer of the collectors' interest and desires in the 1890s and it may rightly be concluded that almost anything might be the reason for the creation of a souvenir spoon design.

Columbian World's Fair Souvenir Spoon

It was probably the Columbian World's Fair Exposition held in Chicago in 1893 which provided (by a quirk of fate) the venue and greatest impetus to the collecting of souvenir spoons and made it a fashionable national hobby that crossed social and economic boundaries. When the Chicago World's Fair opened on May 1, 1893, the population of the United States was about 67 million. When the Fair closed five months later more than 28 million people had visited the Fair. There is little doubt that every Fair visitor took home with him/her at least one souvenir spoon which celebrated some building   or person or highlighted some aspect of the Fair itself.


Enamel Spoon - Watermelon in bowl; black on handle

Today, souvenir spoon collecting is a fascinating hobby (perhaps even avocation) I- for many people. The reasons for collecting are as diversified as the types of souvenir which are depicted post offices, courthouses, Indians, Blacks, historical sites (Plymouth Rock, Minnehaha Falls, Fountain of Youth), hotels (e.g. spoons depicting the Flagler hotels in Florida), animals (famous horses, dogs, cats) and countless spoons with portraits of famous individuals (politicians, revolutionary heroes, writers, musicians and various women). Often the image in the bowl or on the handle is hand-engraved and for the discriminating collector such spoons are highly desirable since they are probably "one of a kind," and show the technical craftsmanship of the skilled engraver employed by silver- smiths and jewelers of the 1890s (an artistic skill virtually lost today!). Souvenir spoons which have enameled bowls or handles (or both) are highly prized by most collectors.

The current "craze" among spoon collectors today is for souvenir spoons depicting Blacks. Equally desirable are any souvenir spoons which have portraits of individuals; there are many Spooners who have built their collections around flowers depicted on souvenir spoons.

The souvenir spoon craze was just entering its "hay day" when Henry M. Flagler, a well-known Florida entrepreneur, began building his railroads and a string of luxury hotels along the east coast of Florida from Jacksonville to St. Augustine, Palm Beach, Miami and eventually to Key West. At each of his hotels, Flagler wisely made space for shops to sell "touristy items" and souvenir spoons were a hot commodity. At the Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine, for example, Greenleaf & Crosby had a shop where they sold a variety of souvenir spoons made by silver companies from the north, such as Gorham, Dominick & Haff, Durgin and Shiebler. There were many souvenir spoons highlighting the city St. Augustine the first pennanent European settlement and oldest city in America (1513), predating Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620). City Gates at St. Augustine, Florida Spoon was patented on June 7, 1892 (U.S. Pat. No. 21,601) by Gilbert L Crowell (Arlington, NJ) and assigned to Greenleaf & Crosby as the seller. In Souvenir Spoons of the 90s, this spoon is described as follows: "The workmanship of the details brings out all the realistic effects. Below the gate are the words "Old City Gate" in the antique letters. "  The "Alligator Spoon" (associated with St. Augustine because of the Alligator Farm) was also designed by Gilbert J. Crowell; it was patented on May 24, 1892 (U.S. Pat. No: 21,560) According to Souvenir Spoons of the 90s, "the handle itself is extremely handsome, the massive conventionally shaped leaves in full relief, harmonizing thoroughly with the character of the reptile. The reptile is also in full relief and is an excellent example of the die-work."


Indian Portrait in bowl

Christopher Colombus
Potrait in bowl

Enamel bowl with rose (Oregon)

Probably there is scarcely a person (real or fictional), a historical event, a place of interest (building, city or town) or organization that has not been immortalized by a souvenir spoon. Many of the souvenir spoons can rightly be classified as works of art, for they have been exquisitely engraved, chased, enameled or sculptured with beautifully modeled silver figures, details and designs. Unfortunately, the artisans of these miniature works of art remain anonymous. With the passage of time, their beauty, age and historic interest have vaulted them to the status of "collectible item" worthy of being showcased for the connoisseur of the fine arts.


FOR INFORMATION ABOUT SOUVENIR SPOONS & COLLECTING.

American Spoon Collectors ASC) is a national and international organization of souvenir spoon collectors. A monthly newsletter, called Spooners Forum, is published and edited by Robert M. Wilhelm. The newsletter includes: feature articles on souvenir spoons; infor- mation about souvenir spoon collecting; letters and comments from ASC members; timely editorials on spoon related subjects; Spoon Shop (for advertising, buying, selling, trading, listing wants); Spoon Sale Section in which ASC members consign spoons for sale. Spooners Forum is devoted entirely to Souvenir Spoons and is eminently useful for the Avid Collector, New Collector, Casual Aficionada & Aficionado and Antique Dealers. An annual meeting is held at which ASC members trade and sell souvenir spoons and attend lectures and workshops. For subscription infonnation to Spooners Forum, contact: Robert M. Wilhelm, Editor, Spooners Forum P.O. Box 243, Rhinecliff, NY 12574. Telephone: 845-876-0303. Fax: 845-876-2037. E-mail: campania@hvc.rr.com


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