By Roberta Parker
When I started collecting antique silver flatware, my budget was miniscule. I would rummage through the 50-cent box at the local junk store and spend hours on the Internet drooling over the beautiful silver I couldn’t afford. It was at replacements.com that I discovered five o’clock teaspoons. Since tea is my beverage of choice, these spoons seemed like a perfect match—beautiful silver, usually within my price range, and something I could use every day. I have since found silver patterns for every interest.
Are you a rose lover? Kirk Stieff’s Rose (1937), Alvin’s beautifully detailed Bridal Rose (1903), or Gorham’s pretty Lancaster (1907) might be of interest.
There are patterns named for famous women—Gorham’s elegant Marie Antoinette (1890) or Jenny Lind, a coin-silver* pattern by Albert Cole (1850), should grace anyone’s collection.
And then there is royalty. Whiting Division made the elegant pattern Duke of York (1900). George W. Shiebler’s magnificent Victoria (1894) and Gorham’s King George, first produced in 1894 and in continuous production for almost a century, are worthy of the finest tables.
Susceptible to wanderlust? Travel from Gorham’s Atlanta (1910) to International’s Venice (1904).
For a more personal touch, collect spoons with a special initial. Most of the monograms on old spoons were hand engraved, adding depth and shadow to plain pieces and unexpected flourishes to more ornate spoons. Often, spoons so beautifully engraved are lower in price than are unmarked pieces. Multiple monograms can reflect all the branches of your family. And you can always invent an ancestor! Looking at the various initials on my spoons has always seemed to bring the past a little nearer and make it more real.
Coin-silver spoons were made in the five o’clock tea size, and many carry beautiful hand engraving. Before 1860, silversmiths were in all the cities and in many towns in this country. If you are very fortunate and if you search diligently, you may be able to find five o’clock–size spoons made by a local smith 150 or more years ago.
One of my cardinal rules of collecting is that the items must be useful. Obviously, five o’clock teaspoons are perfect for tea, but I’ve found they are also very nice for using with desserts like ice cream. These are also just the right size for serving little dabs of jelly or lemon curd to go with tea-size scones. And they are perfect for serving crystallized ginger to drop in your tea, providing just the right amount of that wonderful sweet-hot gingery bite.
In the 1950s and ’60s, there was a revolution in silver design, and many companies started producing different, almost sculptural patterns. Wallace made three beautiful designs that are particular favorites: Romance of the Sea (1950), Wishing Star (1954), and Silver Swirl (1955). I have found it more difficult, however, to locate the five o’clock teaspoon size in these later patterns.
With the increasing informality after World War II, many of our social traditions changed, sterling-silver sales fell, and companies were not making as many pieces. Comparable in size to five o’clock spoons are youth spoons. If you are searching the Internet, try “youth spoons” or “youth/five o’clock spoons” as these are sometimes listed.
Don’t limit yourself to sterling spoons. From the mid-19th century onward, beautiful silverplate has been made in every style from Classical Revival to Scandinavian Modern. One of my favorite patterns is International Silver’s hammered Heraldic (1916), which would work well in a Craftsman bungalow. If you can find it, International’s Medallion (1867) is a fine classical design. National Silver’s Holly (1904) is a beautiful pattern, but be prepared for sticker shock. Silverplate is usually considerably cheaper than is sterling, but depending on the age, pattern, and rarity, it can sometimes be as costly as sterling. Most of the time, however, you get the bargain of beautiful silver, beautiful designs, and affordable prices.
A.A. Milne’s endearing description serves as a gentle warning that “A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards.” I do believe that with the perfect little silver five o’clock teaspoons in hand, one would never be guilty of a Very Nearly Tea.
*Coin silver is a class of hollowware and flatware made until 1868, when the United States adopted the sterling standard. Prior to the adoption of the standard, people would melt down their silver coins to make things, and the amount of pure silver varied according to the coinage used. For more reading about coin silver, go to teatimemagazine.com/extras and click on the cover of this issue.
Roberta Parker, a retired college-bookstore manager, became interested in silver when her father-in-law gave her six coin-silver spoons. She currently has 30 five o'clock teaspoons in her collection but is always searching for just one more beautiful pattern. Her articles on antique silver have been published in Silver Magazine.