I’ve lately become enamored of silver plated nut picks from the late 1800’s…don’t ask me why, maybe I’m nuts. But there is just something about the relatively diminutive size (usually around 4 and 3/4ths inches long) and amount of detail packed on that small piece of flatware that intrigues me. Maybe it’s the fact that I love using them as olive picks in martinis…they are often the subject of lively conversation among guests when I entertain. “Aren’t these cute…” “Look, they’re all different…” “They’re 120 years old? You’re kidding, right?” “What pattern is this, I’d love to collect it…” Whenever I acquire a new pattern, I research it thoroughly as I want to know everything there is to know about it. And so it began with “Squirrel”.
My nut picks were not marked with a manufacturer’s name; they were only marked “PAT APL FOR”. However, from prior research, I knew that Edwin L. Brittin had designed this pattern and the patent was obtained by him in 1875. The patent document above shows that Edwin Brittin filed his patent application on November 27, 1875 and the patent was approved on December 14. 1875. My nut picks are stamped “PAT APL FOR”…which would indicate that they were manufactured sometime between November 27 and December 14, 1875 (or soon thereafter). As I mentioned, there is no manufacturer’s mark on these picks; but Edwin L. Brittin was the founder of Derby Silver Co., in business in 1875. His patent was not assigned to any other company and it is logical to assume that his own company, Derby Silver Co., manufactured these picks. The following was taken from the “Biographical and Geneological History of Morris and Sussex County, New Jersey”, Vol 1, Lewis Publishing Co. 1899: “Edwin Ludlow Brittin was born February 14, 1848, in Madison, New Jersey, where three generations of the family had resided. He was graduated in the military academy in Newark and when sixteen years of age entered a business college. A year later he began work as a clerk for the firm of Redfield & Rice, in the sale of silver-plated ware, in John Street, New York, and in that capacity gave such satisfaction that he was rapidly advanced, and before he had attained his majority was sent by the firm to represent their interests in California. For seven consecutive years he made this annual trip to the Pacific coast, and his integrity and keen business talent won him the confidence and good will of his employers in an unlimited degree. “Edwin L. Brittin founded the Derby Silver Co. at Derby, Connecticut and afterward organized the Rogers & Brittin Silver Company at Bridgeport, Connecticut. The development of these large and successful manufacturing industries is largely due to Mr Brittin’s wonderful shrewdness, pluck and patience. He was appalled at no obstacles and overcame all that lay in his path. His industry and business push were remarkable; his will indomitable. His convictions were positive and he had the courage to maintain them. His ambition seemed to be almost wholly in the direction of business success but his brilliant career was terminated in death resulting from an attack of pneumonia March 19, 1881 when he was only thirty three years of age.”
And this was taken from “The History of the Old Town of Derby, Connecticut, 1642-1880″ By Samuel Orcutt, Ambrose Beardsley, writtin in 1880: ” The Derby Silver Company has been organized since 1872. Their present large factory was built in 1877. Mr Edwin L Britton inaugurated in Shelton the manufacture of Britannia or silver plated goods of various descriptions and the business is now in a most prosperous condition and constantly increasing. The capital stock of the company is $140,000. They employ one hundred and thirty hands and produce annually $200,000 worth of goods; their monthly pay roll being $8,000. E. De Forest Shelton president, William J. Miller secretary, William E. Downs treasurer.”
So, now getting back to my nut picks…I have seen other of these picks marked “D. S. Co.” (for Derby Silver Co.) and I have seen some others marked with a patent date, but the patent date stamped on some of these picks is deciphered as “JUN. 15, 76” which is obviously not the date the Squirrel patent was obtained. Note: I keep refering to this as the “Squirrel” design or patent. I don’t know if it was officially named that but that is what I call it. Edwin Brittin obtained many patents in his brief lifetime, some in collaboration with Edward Schott and others in collaboration with George Gill.
I’d like to note that I have seen two variations of this nut pick. The photo below shows a nut pick on the right side that closely resembles that as contained in the patent. The nut pick on the left has slight variations, such as a large flower to the right side of as well as below the squirrel.
There was one patent that was issued on January 18, 1876 and I think perhaps, the stamp for this design “PAT. JAN. 18, 76” was stamped in error on the Squirrel design nut picks and has been misread over time as “JUN. 15, ’76”.
Edwin Brittin and George Gill collaborated in an 1879 pattern called “Lyonnaise” and is also known as “Eastlake”:
This “Lyonnaise” pattern included an image of a squirrel on the nut pick:
I don’t believe this Lyonnaise pattern was manufactured by Derby Silver Co. It was made by Rogers & Brittin and others.
Perhaps of interest to some of you reading this is the following article that was published in 1887, long after Edwin Brittin’s death. It appears that the employees of Derby Silver had gone on strike and they ask “that you aid us to bring the arrogance of this company to an end. This can be done by refusing to purchase their products.” The article goes on to provide a full listing of all of Derby Silver Company’s marks and trade marks.
If the allegations made within this article are true, it’s sad to see how the company had deteriorated. One last note regarding my squirrel nut picks: The back of the picks are monogrammed with a very delicate script “M”. Remember these picks most likely were made somewhere between November 27, 1875 and December 14, 1875. Edwin Brittin married Mary Hotchkiss in 1875…maybe Edwin had these nut picks made especially for his new bride, maybe as a Christmas present. Don’t know for sure, but could be….
Four of these silver plated Squirrel nut picks with the “M” monogram are offered here at my Etsy shop (SORRY, THIS ITEM HAS SOLD): https://www.etsy.com/listing/157112736/derby-silver-co-silver-plated-squirrel And a single one of these Squirrel nut picks with the “M” monogram is included in a grouping of six antique nut picks also offered here at my Etsy shop (SORRY, THIS ITEM HAS SOLD): https://www.etsy.com/listing/155317765/antique-nut-pick-selection-silver-plated
And for you Edwin Brittin fans, I also have four silver plated dinner forks in the Oval Thread pattern manufactured by Rogers & Brittin (only in business from 1880 to 1882). SORRY, THESE HAVE SOLD. https://www.etsy.com/listing/105423292/rogers-brittin-silver-plate-forks-oval
It’s rare to find Rogers & Brittin flatware these days…
I’ve written more on Edwin Brittin in another post, “The Mystery of the Maltese Cross”.