Once and Future Heirloom Silver

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sterling silver, monogram, spoon 1776

DP, I wish I knew more about you.

With so many pressing problems in the world, I’m going to confess to a slightly guilty conscience about my absolute happiness in working/creating/growing Silver Magpies. When I expressed this feeling, a very wise friend said to me, beautiful things enrich our lives. A piece of heirloom silver – whether it’s been passed down in your family for generations or it’s something you recently purchased and plan on passing down as an heirloom – is so much more than just a beautiful thing.

“We all want something beautiful” – Counting Crows

Certainly heirloom silver is beautiful – the lovely color, its unique way of warming so quickly to your touch -and this is even before you look at the physical shape into which it has been formed. What keeps me endlessly fascinated is not so much that vintage silver is made of silver – although how many other absolutely everyday tools can you think of that are made of a precious metal. It’s that these pieces are time travelers.

Heirloom Silver

sterling silver, spoon, 1776, edge of bowl wear

I'd love a time lapse video showing how long this took to happen.

DP is my favorite mystery. Here is what I know about DP and his/her spoon:

  1. It was made by Thomas Chawner in London in 1776.
  2. It was constructed out of two separate pieces of silver.  One for the bowl and another for the handle which were then fused at the base of the bowl.
  3. The pattern is a traditional Hanoverian one with a downturned terminal and a rat-tail on the reverse.
  4. It weights 72 grams and is 8 1/2 inches in length.
  5. Over the past 235 years it has been used by one (or some) very heavy determined right-hander.

Every time a piece crosses my desk, I establish the facts. However, unlike Joe Friday who stuck to the facts, my mind begins to imagine a story.  This is the point at which it gets really fun.

First of all, think of what this spoon has lived through.  Here is a timeline image I found.  It comes from The Hammond World Atlas Corp.  It was apparently produced around 1999, the last recorded event.

Heirloom Silver History Timeline

This is just historical change - not art, science, technology, music...

Now your mind is boggled by all the events that have occurred since it was made, let yourself imagine the personal history of this spoon.

Im my mind DP stands for David Poole.  He’s not an aristocrat because his initials look like a no-nonsense mark of ownership…no crests or armorials. I think he’s got a job, and is a young law clerk in London.  He can save up enough for a silver spoon, but it goes everywhere with him and gets a lot of use.

Maybe, because he has come to the city to make his way in the world and he lives in lodgings.  This means he has to eat all his meals out. He needs a spoon to eat because pubs and food vendors don’t provide silverware. He’s not eating off delicate china, more like wooden bowls and trenchers. As he’s paid good money for his food he makes sure to scrape up every last morsel.

Over time he wears down the upper left hand tip of the spoon, since he is right handed. The pubs are full of gripping stories about the uprising in the Colonies.  Surely the Redcoats will stamp out this flare of rebellion.

The years pass, the rebellion succeeded and David leaves his spoon – a fond reminder of his early days in London – to his son, who leaves it to his daughter, whose child crosses the Atlantic to make their way in the very country that shaped the events of David’s youth. Eventually, the spoon ends up in my hands.  An English newcomer to the US – how fitting. And eventually I’ll pass it to my son, and he’ll add another chapter to it.

That’s what goes through my mind when I see this spoon.  It’s so much more than the sum of it’s parts.

Future Heirloom Silver

It’s my sincere wish that every time someone purchases a piece from me that it goes on to become an active and cherished addition to their household. I’m still thinking about the couple with the young baby who bought the Whiting Pie Server from me last Friday. They were so delighted to think of cutting her very first birthday cake with it, and every single one that followed! I imagine it will become *the* cake serving utensil of choice in that household, for generations to come. It doesn’t matter that it was not a family heirloom.  It’s part of their family now, as well as still retaining it’s historical legacy. It’s an absolutely perfect future heirloom.


Do you have any future heirloom silver?

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6 thoughts on “Once and Future Heirloom Silver

  1. Jackie BernardiNo Gravatar

    I’ve never really thought about the “story” of each piece of vintage silver you have–it must be like walking into a library of the most fascinating books–how do you get through your day without out “reading” one?

  2. Jennie@gotmyreservationsNo Gravatar

    Nancy, I think we must be sisters from different mothers. This is exactly what I do with my heirloom silver — not my heirloom, but someone else’s I acquired. I imagine the story based on my historical knowledge. Thanks for sharing this story!

    Watch my blog for my upcoming posts about decorating for Christmas with silver. I’m still trying to slog through the last crazy days of school.

    1. Silver MagpiesNo Gravatar

      Jennie –

      Good luck with school…I remember looking forward to the winter break sooooo much. 🙂 I’m looking forward to your Christmas silver posts. I hope you will share them on the Silver Magpies FB wall!

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