Michael Weller Silver Seminar: American Flatware - Unexpected Servings: Colonial and Federal Flatware
D. Albert Soeffing, Philadelphia, PA
Silver flatware was greatly valued---but scarce---in 18th and early 19th century America. Eighteenth century silver serving pieces are even rarer. Only about five percent of the population owned any silver when silver was considered a way to keep tangible family assets at home. Most colonists fortunate, i.e., wealthy) enough to own silver possessed only a few simple items. Silver pieces were often reserved for the use of the young, the infirm and the elderly, because silver was associated with good hygiene.
The most prevalent individual silver items were spoons. Spoons were necessary to consume foods: beverages such as tea, coffee and chocolate, soups and stews; and caudle, a combination of warmed ale or wine with brad or gruel, eggs, sugar and spices, traditionally drunk by young mothers and the ailing elderly. Knives also played a large part at table to cut food and also spear food for eating---serving the function of a fork---when using one‘s hands became considered gauche. Forks were rare and silver forks were almost unknown in the 18th and early 19th century. Silver forks were not generally used , even by those able to afford them, until the late 1830s.
Mr. Soeffing earned a bachelor’s degree from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY and a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. Our speaker was a Forman Fellowship Scholar at the Winterthur Museum in 1991. He lectured on identification and appraisal of fine and antique silver at the Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus (1994-2003) and currently is an adjunct assistant professor for New York University’s appraisal studies program. Donald Soeffing founded the New York Silver Society and has been its president from 1992-1996 and president emeritus from 1997-present.
Mr. Soeffing’s publications include “Silver Medallion Flatware” (1988), contributions to “Silver in America: A Century of Splendor, 1840-1940” (1994) and “The History of the Origins, Design and Promotion of Tiffany & Co. Hollowware” (1999). He has also contributed many articles to Silver Magazine and The Magazine Antiques.