Fascinated as I am by the myriad of patterns and multiple numbers of shapes and uses of late 18th Century flatware and holloware, I recently found myself pouring through “The Meriden Britannia Silver Plate-Treasury, The Complete Catalog of 1886-87, With 3200 Illustrations”.
One of the amazing features of this catalog is the 3200 illustrations. How long did it take those talented artists to draw all these illustrations of coffee and tea sets, napkin rings, cruet sets, figural salt and pepper shakers, calling card trays, water pitchers, punch bowls, mugs, epergnes, sugars and creamers, candelabra, vanity sets, wine coolers, cake baskets, nut bowls, match safes, toothpick holders…and the list goes on and on. Not to mention the flatware patterns, serving piece variations and boxed sets offered.
Following is an example of a beautifully detailed tray. Every illustration in this catalog is just as detailed.
As I moved into the flatware section toward the end of the catalog, I came across the following page which showed julep strainers and bar spoons:
It’s funny that I hadn’t really given much thought to the Victorian bar. 1847 Rogers Bros. was making silver plated strainers and spoons for the bar back in the mid-1880s. But I didn’t recall seeing much, if any, of these items in my search for silver plated flatware. In addition to the bar spoon patterns shown above, 1847 Rogers also made them in the Lorne, Persian and Olive patterns in varying sizes.
What caught my attention was that the longest spoon in the bar spoon grouping in this 1886 catalog was called a “Tom Collins”. I had always thought of the Tom Collins as more of a contemporary drink. I remember having them on warm summer evenings during the ’70s….1970s that is! Wikipedia tells me that:
“The Tom Collins is a Collins cocktail made from gin, lemon juice, sugar and carbonated water. First memorialized in writing in 1876 by “the father of American mixology” Jerry Thomas, this “gin and sparkling lemonade” drink typically is served in a Collins glass over ice.”
Wikipedia goes on to give a little history on “Tom Collins” and the hoax…
“In 1874, people in New York, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere in the United States would start a conversation with “Have you seen Tom Collins?” After the listener predictably reacts by explaining that they did not know a Tom Collins, the speaker would assert that Tom Collins was talking about the listener to others and that Tom Collins was “just around the corner”, “in a [local] bar,” or somewhere else near. The conversation about the nonexistent Tom Collins was a proven hoax of exposure. In The Great Tom Collins hoax of 1874, as it became known, the speaker would encourage the listener to act foolishly by reacting to patent nonsense that the hoaxer deliberately presents as reality. In particular, the speaker desired the listener to become agitated at the idea of someone talking about them to others such that the listener would rush off to find the purportedly nearby Tom Collins. Similar to The New York Zoo hoax of 1874, several newspapers propagated the very successful practical joke by printing stories containing false sightings of Tom Collins. The 1874 hoax quickly gained such notoriety that several 1874 music hall songs memorialized the event (copies of which now are in the U.S. Library of Congress).“
Who would have thought? You learn something every day… or so they say.
Getting back to the subject of bar spoons, curiosity got the better of me and I started to research “Victorian bar spoon” and discovered that in Victorian times, bar spoons were not just used to make a drink or cocktail; the drink was served with the spoon in it. The “Wine and Spirit Bulletin, Vol. 17, 1903 states the following of the “Old Fashioned Cocktail”:
“Crush in small bar glass one lump sugar, put in two dashes Schroeder’s bitters, piece twisted lemon peel, two or three small lumps of ice, one jigger whisky. Stir and serve with small bar spoon in glass.”
The “Old Fashioned” cocktail (as described above) had been popular in the early 1800’s and by the mid 1800’s several variations with additions of different liquers were being made. Many people started ordering drinks that were closer to the original concoction and referred to it as the “Old Fashioned”…the name stuck!
The bar spoon was not just a utensil, it was a piece of flatware and essential to the Victorian bar. The twist handle design is for the aid in the stirring and blending of the contents of the drink.
Well, then, there must be a good number of these silver plated bar spoons out there somewhere as they were an essential piece of Victorian flatware. I searched, and searched, and found very little of it. Where did it all go? I even searched “ice cream soda” spoon, “twist handle” spoon, “long handle” spoon in addition to “bar spoon”. Iced tea spoons do not have the same shaped bowl as the bar spoon.
I do have two Stratford Silver Co. silver plated twist handle bar spoons, one tall and the other small, available at my Etsy shop (see small photo to the left and close-up below – SINCE SOLD). They have a very delicate beaded floral design which is decidely aesthetic in feel; I have not as yet been able to identify this pattern:
I do see that manufacturers other than 1847 Rogers were making bar spoons as well. Rogers & Bro. being one:
I’m still befuddled by the mystery of the vanishing bar spoons and will continue to hunt. And if anyone knows where they’re hiding, would you please let me know?
Update: I have since added to my bar spoon inventory available at my Etsy shop. https://www.etsy.com/shop/queenofsienna
And what about those elusive antique julep strainers like the ones shown in the 1886 Meriden Britannia catalog page above? The catalog shows three pattern variations on this page, “Star”, “Clover” and “Windsor” (which was a small strainer). This catalog also lists “Olive” as another pattern in julep strainers.
In Harry Johnson’s 1888 book “The New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual”, within the recipe for “Old Style Whiskey Smash” he states “…place the strainer in the glass and serve.” There is an illustration showing a Fancy Brandy Smash being served with a strainer and a long twist handle bar spoon. The strainer is depicted as being served bowl side down (convex side up) in that illustration. So the recipient of this drink would then proceed to drink through the strainer as shown, bowl side down? I wasn’t certain about that, but this recipe and illustration certainly show that this concoction was intended to be drunk through the sifter. You’ll note that the illustration of the served drink shows the leaves and fruit in that glass… thus the purpose for the strainer.
I tested this concave side down and convex side up positioning of the strainer in a glass to see for myself how it looked. One side of the strainer dipped down a little into the glass. I positioned my hand to pick up the glass and I had a Eureka moment. Perfect positioning! The strainer allowed the person drinking to comfortably sip the liquid while the strainer was holding back the leaves, fruit and ice. I understood why Harry Johnson served the drink with the strainer positioned this way. This strainer would also be advantageous for those with mustaches…no more unsightly mint leaves dangling above your lip!
The 1847 Rogers Bros. Star Julep Strainer pictured below can be found here at my Etsy shop (SINCE SOLD): https://www.etsy.com/listing/178263230/silver-plate-star-julep-strainer-1847
Speaking about julep strainers, I’ve seen the date attributed to the “Star Julep Strainer” circa 1890 on various internet sites. We know that it existed and was called the “Star Julep Strainer” in 1886, as it was listed in the Meriden Britannia catalog that year. Noel Turner, in his book, “American Silver Flatware”, however, lists the date for the julep strainer circa 1860. And the 1867 Meriden Britannia catalog includes a “toddy strainer” which looks very similar to the julep strainer. Note that in 1867 the toddy strainer was only available in Plain and Olive patterns…not Star.
I do have toddy strainers as well as other julep strainers available at my Etsy shop as well.
The “Olive” pattern julep strainer is particularly interesting to me. It does not have a cut out, like a star, for hanging. Instead it has the earliest “fancy” pattern in silverplate, dating back to the 1850s and 1860s. The “Olive” pattern julep strainer shown below has the design on both the front and back of the handle which indicates to me that this tool was intended to be used and viewed on both sides. It most likely was made for the home bar and not a commercial establishment.