Artifact Corner: Silver Fork from 1820

Hi everyone and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at an absolutely beautiful silver spoon from the early 1800’s. This spoon belonged to the Webb family, and came into our collections through the marriage of Henry Webb and Frances Henrietta Delord. Their daughter, Fannie Delord Webb Hall inherited the Webb family collections, and that’s why we have these pieces at our museum. We have an entire set of this beautiful silver, and the family definitely used them. Let’s learn a bit more about the history of forks, and the maker of this gorgeous piece.

The oldest records of people using forks is from the Bronze Age, sometime between 2,400 to 1,900 BCE. Archaeologists found two pronged forks, made from bone, during excavations at sites in Gansu, a north-central province of China. Now, it’s not clear whether these were used for dining, serving, or for food preparations. Forks have also been found in Ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece. But these earliest forks seem to have been used mostly for food prep rather than as a dining utensil. So, how did forks come to our table? The first mention of forks comes from a Byzantine manuscript from around the year 1,000 CE. The Emperors niece is described as eating her meals with a golden two pronged fork. The common practice at the time was to have a table set with a knife and a spoon. One would cut foods with the knife, and use their hands to pick up and eat it. A spoon was used for soups and porridges. The first appearance of forks in a cookbook comes from a 13th Century gift to the King of Naples. The cookbook states that diners should use forks to pick up slippery lasagna noodles. Forks continued to spread across Europe, becoming increasingly common for both the aristocracy and the average person. Forks could be made from a variety of materials, and the average person, wishing to emulate the upper classes could fashion their own forks from materials readily available to them. As Europeans immigrated to the United States, they brought their utensils with them, and the fork was introduced to North America.

Our fork is made by an American Silversmith named Thomas Chester Coit. Thomas was born in Norwich, CT On November 1, 1791. At the age of 14 he started his apprenticeship under an unknown jeweler in Canterbury, CT, and apprenticed there for seven years. From 1812 to 1816 he worked on his own as a silversmith and jeweler back in Norwich. In 1816 he formed a partnership with Elisha Hyde Mansfield and they created the firm Cost & Mansfield. An advertisement of theirs at the time says they offered, “ a good assortment of military goods, elegant gold and gilt hat loops; and sword knots.” This partnership with Mansfield lasted until 1819. In 1820 Thomas formed another partnership with a silversmith named Clark, no first name can be found for this craftsperson. They formed the firm of Clark & Coit. This partnership only lasted for two years, and this is the firm that made our silver set. So, we can safely date this set to between 1820 to 1822. Thomas continued in his trade, eventually moving to New York City in 1835, and working as a silversmith in the Big Apple. Thomas passed away on February 28, 1841, at the age of just 49.

Our fork, and the rest of this silver set are in beautiful condition. The Webb family name, hand engraved on the back is still very legible, as is the touchmark from the silversmiths. The forks tines are all straight, and the fork itself looks like it could have been made yesterday, rather than over 200 years ago. The whole set is just stunning, and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

The following music was used for this media project:
Music: Sunny Morning by MusicLFiles
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