Hoffman Media


Sugar Tongs

Every properly set tea table requires the addition of a pair of silver sugar tongs. As beautiful as they are functional, lustrous silver sugar tongs are the only acceptable way of handling the sugar cubes that sweeten our cups of tea.


The inception of this requisite tea tool dates back to the early 18th century. It was introduced in Europe when sugar was sold in compressed cones. The word tong is derived from the European-Indonesian word denk, which translates to “to bite.” In fact, early renditions of sugar tongs were called sugar nips or nippers. These tongs resembled scissors in both shape and operation and were quite efficient at breaking serving-size pieces from the sugar block.


From the initial scissorlike versions evolved the more commonly recognized bow-shaped tongs. For a short time, in the late 1700s, cast sugar tongs appeared on tea tables. Made of three separate pieces, the two arms and the bow were soldered together, with the maker’s mark stamped at the joints. These tongs were very delicate, and consequently, few undamaged examples survive today.


The bow sugar tongs began as fairly straightforward utensils with little ornamentation. But as bright-cut engraving became the fashion, silver sugar tongs became increasingly elaborate. Bright-cut engraving required the use of a polished graver, resulting in an exposed surface that reflected light. This process produced a gleam that enhanced the engraved design of the piece.


Because of the very nature of hand engraving, these pieces are valued for their uniqueness. Though certain common themes might be repeated, each piece is one of a kind. These items were often decorated with monograms, as silver sugar tongs were popular wedding gifts. Other prominent features were beading, scrolling, and floral embellishments. The variety of cup (or bowl) shapes is also remarkable. Whether sculpted as scalloped shells, claws, or simple ovals, the cups added to the individuality of the piece.


With the introduction of standard silver patterns around 1820, bright-cut engraving fell from favor, and the result was plainer, less-adorned pieces. Fortunately, many beautiful heirloom silver sugar tongs have been passed down through generations so that we might enjoy them still.

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