Year of the Souvenir: 1891

In my travels through time and place via souvenir spoons, it appeared that I needed to understand more completely those who visited and collected souvenirs during what was called “The Grand Tour”.  Apparently European countries in the 1880’s were prepared for the onslaught of the nouveau riche from America.  These visitors seemed to find it necessary to bring back a momento of their travels, often a spoon depicting one of their favorite locations.  Among others, two visitors who were later instrumental in the American souvenir scene were a Mr. Low and a Mr. Galt.  It was quite evident to the American silver and silverplate manufacturers that something was needed for those visiting this continent who wished to have a momento to remind them of the various destinations they visited.  So begins America’s representation of itself.  

Upon researching the goat spoon below, more than often it was described as an example of a souvenir from Italy representing an artifact found at the Pompeii excavation.  This type of souvenir must have created a vivid memory.  This spoon can be found at my Etsy shop here:

Goat Head Spoon Made in Italy

Goat Head Spoon Made in Italy

The following was taken from Current Opinion, Volume 7, Edward Jewett Wheeler and Frank Crane, 1891:

“Souvenir Spoons…. A Fad in Collecting…. The New York World:  The idea of carrying away from each foreign city a souvenir spoon is a prevailing custom among Americans travelling abroad. When the European trip is ended happy memories of noted cities are brought pleasantly to mind each time the emblematic little spoons are seen. Now the craze for collecting souvenir spoons has broken out in America and at present it is at the zenith of its success. A foreigner travelling in America can leave half his wealth behind him if he wishes to have in exchange a collection of souvenir spoons. True to the American enthusiasm, we have gone into the spoon idea most effectually. Starting in as copyists we have so broadened and improved the original idea that it has become truly Americanized. One of New York’s most popular silversmiths has a display of souvenir spoons so interesting and varied that hours may be passed in lingering over their beauties.

” New York is not satisfied with one spoon. If it had been it would have resulted in a spoon decorated by a composite photograph. But there are several New York spoons. One of the most popular an after dinner coffee with New York engraved upon bowl the handle being formed of a statuette of Peter Stuy vesant. The Knickerbocker spoon has a representation of Diedrich Knickerbocker on the handle. It comes in orange and tea spoon. The Rip Van Winkle spoon has York engraved in the bowl, the handle being decorated old Rip Van Winkle and his dog Wolf. Another spoon of New York is called the Anneke Jans. On the handle is the face of Anneke Jans copied from an woodcut. This design is principally on the sherbet spoon which is something new. It is a trifle larger than an after dinner coffee and the bowl comes to a point. A New York spoon which could be used either for bonbons or to go a tea caddy is rather large. The bowl is made of a half dollar while a miniature statue of Liberty forms the handle.

“Philadelphia thinks itself also too historic to simply one souvenir spoon; so that the people who wish remember Philadelphia by adding another spoon to their collection can choose between the spoon which has a half dollar for the bowl and the old Liberty bell on the handle or one which has the coat of arms for its top, the bowl picture engraved upon it of Penn making a treaty with Indians. The Washington spoon has a picture of the Capitol in the bowl and the handle is formed of the Washington Monument while wound around it are beautifully laurel and oak leaves suggestive of strength and glory. Another Washington spoon has a cameo of George in the gold bowl and a penny on the back of the spoon.  The handle of the Massachusetts spoon is formed of an anchor while engraved in the bowl is a picture of the of the Pilgrims, with the date.

“Every spoon collection must have the witch spoon of Salem for there are so interesting stories connected with it. The Lynn spoon a picture of Moll Pitcher on the handle and the word Lynn in black letters on the bowl. Our smallest State is represented by a very historic spoon, for the Rhode Island spoon has a statuette of Roger Williams for the handle and picture of him fleeing from Rhode Island engraved in the bowl. The Albany spoon is not only suggestive of the capital city but of the Hudson. Albany is engraved in the bowl and part of the handle is formed of a sturgeon. The other part represents a very jolly looking picture of Diedrich Knickerbocker offering a toast. Does imagination aid us in hearing him say “Here’s to our capital! Long may she prosper!” The handle of the New Hampshire spoon has a picture of Profile Rock upon it.

“Connecticut has an odd little souvenir spoon in the exact shape of a nutmeg. It is in the after dinner coffee size and may be of either gold or silver. The bowl is formed of half a nutmeg and the handle is in the form of a branch with a few leaves and a tiny nutmeg for a top. One of the most elaborate of the souvenir spoons is the Hartford spoon. Very finely engraved in the bowl is the Charter Oak. There are three dates on the handle 1687, 1689 and 1856 and a stag forms the top. From 1687 to 1689 the Charter was hid in the old oak tree and 1856 is the year in which the tree fell. This design on a gold orange spoon is very beautiful.

“The Niagara spoon has an excellent representation of the Falls on the handle with Niagara engraved in the bowl. The Brooklyn spoon makes a dainty little souvenir. It is generally in the after dinner coffee size. Engraved in black on the gold bowl is a little picture of the Brooklyn Bridge and down the handle in black lettering is the word Brooklyn. Many of the souvenir spoons suggest historical facts But the New Bedford spoon recalls moonlight sails all day fishing trips and many a walk around that quaint old town. Yet this spoon makes the best of souvenirs. All over the silver bowl waves are etched. The handle is in the shape of a harpoon while on the top is a miniature whaling vessel very perfect in every detail.

“All who love the Quaker poet will be glad to add the Whittier spoon to their collection. On the handle is engraved a tiny picture of Whittier’s home and Haverhill with the date of his birth is written in the bowl. There are many spoons which are souvenirs of the houses of the different poets. There are also the Grant, Lincoln and Sherman spoons. Mrs Cleveland has just added two more spoons to her already large collection. One was the Knickerbocker spoon the other the Rip Van Winkle. Morgan Dix in selecting a souvenir spoon the other day showed his partiality to the old Dutch governor and bought the New York spoon with the statuette of Peter Stuyvesant for its handle.

“Many of the society women have been puzzling their brains as to the style of case in which they should keep their spoon collection. A good idea for one of these cases is to have a deep sandal wood box mounted in gold with a gold lock and key. Inside there should be three trays lined with white satin and arranged so that the spoons set in them nicely. The first tray should be kept exclusively for American souvenir spoons. The second for odd little after dinner coffee spoons having no special significance but being dainty and pretty. The forget-me-not spoon with blue enamel forget-me-nots on the handle should go in this tray, also the spoon made of old coins and the fish spoon which has the bowl formed of half a fish the tail being used for a handle. In the third tray will be foreign spoons with the flower emblematic of the different European cities upon it. The English spoon has a rose for a handle. The Scottish spoon is decorated by a thistle and the French spoon will have a fleur de lis enamelled upon its handle. A good way for the society girl to polish up her history is to get a spoon collection and then to understand it so thoroughly that she can explain each spoon in an interesting way to her different friends.”

Now my interest is piqued!  Having spent hours searching in the patent office and offering souvenir spoons for sale in my Etsy shop, I did a little investigation into the origins of the souvenir spoon in the United States.  Quite interesting indeed!  In the collectors guides, it is often noted that the first patent for a design of a spoon or fork handle depicting a place is the following patent obtained by Myron H. Kinsley in 1881.  As Mr. Kinsley describes, the handle prominantly displays the Suspension Bridge and Niagara Falls.  This spoon was not meant to be a souvenir spoon.  Mr. Kinsley was a member of the Oneida Community in Wallingford, CT and would soon be moving to the Oneida Community in Niagara Falls.  It was Mr. Kinsley who reportedly advised John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community, that he was about to be arrested.  Mr. Noyes fled to Canada on June 23, 1879 in the dark of night to escape arrest.  Kinsley’s bridge design symbolizes the flight to Canada as well as “The Breakup” of the Oneida Community itself.  The beauty of this design is that one could look at it and see simply an aesthetic / Eastlake design and not the suspension bridge between Canada and the U.S.   Was it ever made?  That is the question.


Almost nine years later, the following patent was obtained by Robert Leding.  This design combines an image of the Washington Monument on the handle and the U.S. Capitol building in the bowl of the spoon.  This spoon was put into production in sterling.


Following is an ad from the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine in 1891 (I have a demitasse or “coffee spoon” as they call with gilt accents for sale at my Etsy shop here

Leding Advertisement

Leding Advertisement

The following was taken from Appletons’ Annual Cyclopaedia and Register of Important Events of the Year 1891, Volume 16, published 1892.  This article discusses Mr. Galt and Mr. Low, to whom we referred at the beginning of this post.  Note, we see the use of the word “fad” here as also contained in the previous article.

“SOUVENIR SPOONS.  No fad of times has advanced so rapidly and taken strong and perhaps permanent a hold as of souvenir spoons. These medals, for they pieces of metal “bearing devices and inscriptions struck or cast to commemorate a an institution or an event” are generally silver, sometimes with gold bowl, but seldom of gold. In shape they are usually of coffee, tea or orange pattern; sometimes pap, dessert, sherbet, chocolate, sugar and bon bon forms offered, while the design at times extends to almond scoops, pickle forks, sardine forks, icecream forks, child’s forks, butter knives, spreaders, paper knives and sugar tongs.

“It is said that the oldest piece of silverware known is a spoon. Before knives or forks were employed the spoon was a household necessity. The derivation of the fad was from Europe and tourists for many years have collected copies of the celebrated apostles spoons. Special designs characteristic of places on the Continent havo long been known. In the summer of 1887 M.W. Galt, of Washington, D. C., while traveling abroad, conceived the idea of applying the fancy to this country and, on his return, produced the first Washington spoon showing the head of the Father of his Country. From the outset the venture proved a success and a year later Daniel Low of Salem, Mass. brought out his first witch spoon. Thus started, the idea grew until it has extended to every place of importance in the country and even many of the smaller towns have their souvenir spoons. For the most part these spoons chronicle some historical event connected with the locality or else a characteristic building or scene; failing in these, the memory of some distinguished person is perpetuated by the spoons. At first the designs were simple but many are now quite complex.”

The following Galt ad refers to the above article.  The spoon pictured below the ad was part of the article:

Galt & Bro. Ad and George Washington Spoon

Galt & Bro. Ad and George Washington Spoon

The following advertisement came from Scribner’s Magazine, 1891.  Although this design was not patented, the trademark was registered in the Digest of Trade Marks, Vol. 9, 1891:

Low "Witch" Spoon Ad

Low “Witch” Spoon Ad

The J. H. Johnston & Co. ad below also came from an 1891 Century Illustrated Monthly magazine.  I believe Johnston was the first to receive patents for souvenir spoons in 1891.

J. H. Johnston & Co. Advertisement

J. H. Johnston & Co. Advertisement

1891 was the year that the manufacture of souvenir spoons exploded with hundreds being patented.  Exactly how many were manufactured, I do not know, but below are a few examples:

souvenirs 1891

The spoons shown above are briefly described as follows:

20,493   Feb. 3 1891     John H Johnston   Apparently  the first of 1891 and 2nd souvenir spoon patent.     Different Rip Van Winkle then shown in the J.H.Johnston&Co. ad. (see above)

20,509   Feb.10 1891    William Jones   Early souvenir of city. Newburyport Mass. and Lord Timothy Dexter.

20,781   May 26 1891    Henry C. Karr   Uncle Sam

20,822   June 6 1891     Henry H. Jacobs   Highly decorated cannon handle.

20,978   Aug. 11 1891    Seth Frederic Low    Leif Ericson   Another by the designer of the “Witch” spoon.

20,979   Aug. 11 1891    Mary K. Munson   Chicago on handle  (what an onion has to do with Chicago, I have no idea….)

21,051   Sept. 22 1891   George P. Griswold     Orange Spoon   (this spoon is not actually a souvenir spoon but an orange spoon.  See my other blog post “The Eating of the Orange”)

21,072   Sept. 29 1891    Charles A. Goldsmith   Very similar to Leding design.

21,144    Nov. 3 1891      Harry Mercer    Smoke stack handle with smelting furnace.

21,256    Dec. 22 1891    Manuel Carranza   Cuba   Citizen of Mexico living in Havana who obtained a U.S. Patent (actually several patents).

The following spoon is an example of a spoon that was not manufactured as a souvenir spoon but converted to one by most likely a jeweller by engraving the name of a location, in this instance “Cincinnati”, in the bowl of the spoon.  This silverplate spoon was made by Alvin Manufacturing in the popular 1908 pattern “Brides Bouquet” designed by Frederick Habensack.  This spoon is available at my Etsy shop here:

Cincinnatti Souvenir Spoon

Cincinnati Souvenir Spoon

The number of souvenir patents continued for several years but then diminished…by 1894 there were only a handful.

This entry was posted in Daniel Low, Etsy, Galt, John H Johnston, Mary Munson, Moore & Leding, Myron H. Kinsley, Oneida Community, queenofsienna, Robert Leding, souvenir spoon, Uncategorized, Witch spoon and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Year of the Souvenir: 1891

  1. Very complete and informative. I learned a great deal here.

  2. Wow, love that “witch” spoon! I’ve had souvenir spoons in the past but most have been the more ordinary 1950s roadside attraction types, which also have their collectors, as I found out on Ebay!

  3. Sunie Dae Beran says:

    Thank you so much for the information you’ve provided! It gives me a place to start searching my 1891 “Hillsdale” spoon. I love having research projects; and your info gave me a great heads up! Thank you!!

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