Is It Impolite to Use My Bon Bon for a Tête à Tête?

In perusing catalogs and ads from the late 1800s, my attention was drawn by the “tête à tête” coffee and tea sets as well as “tête à tête” tongs.  “Tête à tête” is French for “head to head” (or “face to face”).   The “tête à tête” chair was extremely popular at the time as well.  Taken from Wikipedia:

  • Tête-à-tête chair, also known as a courting bench, a type of settee consisting of two connected chairs which allow two people to sit facing one another.
John H. Belter Tête-à-tête Chair, on Display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

John H. Belter Tête-à-tête Chair, on Display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The photo above was taken from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.  The chair shown was attributed to John Henry Belter circa 1850-1860.

In relation to coffee or tea,  “tête-à-tête” means a set for two.  These sets usually included three or four pieces, a coffee pot and/or tea pot, suger bowl and creamer.  Both porcelain and silver sets were offered.  

Page From 1883 Meriden Silver Plate Catalog

Page From 1883 Meriden Silver Plate Catalog

According to the 1886/87 Meriden Britannia Catalog, they were scaled down in size to contain somewhere between two half pints to three half pints of liquid or thereabouts.

Illustrations from the 1886/87 Meriden Britannia Catalog

Illustrations from the 1886/87 Meriden Britannia Catalog

The same 1886 Meriden Britannia catalog also featured “tête à tête” tongs:

1886/87 Meriden Britannia Tongs

1886/87 Meriden Britannia Tongs

Note that the “tête à tête” sugar tongs are shown in the middle of the top row of the illustration above while the regular sized sugar tongs are shown to the right.  The “tête à tête” tongs are scaled down in size to work with the smaller version of the “tête à tête” sugar bowl. 

Taken from 1892 Pairpoint Advertisement

Taken from 1892 Pairpoint Advertisement

Many companies offered these “tête à tête” sets, Pairpoint being one of them.

Pairpoint Ad in The Jewelers Circular, Vol. 27, 1893

Pairpoint Ad in The Jewelers Circular, Vol. 27, 1893

Many manufacturers offered their “tête à tête” tongs in a variety of patterns:

Rogers & Brother 1892 Catalog

Rogers & Brother 1892 Catalog

1847 Rogers Ad in the 1889 Issue of "Busiest House", No. 13

1847 Rogers Ad in the 1889 Issue of “Busiest House in America”, No. 13

1847 Rogers Bros. Ad in 1896 "Busiest House in America", No. 20

1847 Rogers Bros. Ad in 1896 “Busiest House in America”, No. 20

However, in the following Rogers & Bro. pricelist, “bon bon tongs” are also listed along with “tête à tête” tongs and regular sugar tongs:

1892 Price List from Rogers Bro. Catalog

1892 Price List from Rogers & Bro. Catalog

“Bon bon” is another French word meaning “good good” and used for confections, meaning candy. 

Following is an 1894 ad for Pairpoint which includes bon bon tongs:

1880 Pairpoint Advertisement

1894 Pairpoint Advertisement

And an 1892 Rogers & Bro. ad for bon bon tongs:

1892 Rogers & Bro. Bon Bon Spoon and Tongs Ad

1892 Rogers & Bro. Bon Bon Spoon and Tongs Ad

Following is an ad from “The Busiest House in America” that shows bon bon baskets, some with the little bon bon tongs hanging from the handle.  It is my understanding that bon bon tongs were smaller than the “tête à tête” tongs:

1896 Ad from "Busiest House in America" No. 20

1896 Ad from “Busiest House in America” No. 20

And this 1896 Lowney’s Chocolate Bonbons (note: I’ve seen bon bons spelled as one word and two) advertisement shows a bon bon dish with the tongs laying on top of the candy:

1896 Lowney Ad

1896 Lowney Ad

Some candy companies even offered bon bon tongs as premiums.

And for you technical type readers, here’s patent info regarding tongs.  In 1870 Robert Wallace obtained patents regarding the design of tongs and assigned those patents to Meriden Britannia Co.

Robert Wallace's Patent #4069

Robert Wallace’s Patent #4069

And five more of Mr. Wallace’s patents for tongs:

Robert Wallace 1870 Patents #4070-4074

Robert Wallace 1870 Patents #4070-4074

I have Anchor Rogers silver plated tongs in an embossed floral pattern, measuring 3 and 3/8ths inches long for sale here at my Etsy shop:  https://www.etsy.com/listing/158000753/anchor-rogers-silver-plated-bon-bon-tete

Rogers Embossed Tongs

Rogers Embossed Tongs

So, the question remains…if you were serving coffee for two using your lovely little “tête à tête” set, could you substitute your bon bon tongs for “tête à tête” tongs?  I think not!  And, if you were serving bon bons with your coffee, would you then need both “tête à tête” tongs and bon bon tongs?  I believe so.  Ah, how complicated life was in the Victorian age!

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This entry was posted in bon bon basket, bon bon tongs, bonbon tongs, for two, silver plate, sugar tongs, tete a tete, tongs and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Is It Impolite to Use My Bon Bon for a Tête à Tête?

  1. Pingback: Huyler’s Candy Tongs | queenofsienna

  2. Tom Hull says:

    I once had a very old Lowneys Chocolate box and in it was a TINY little set of tongs (about 2 to 3) long of brass with the name Lowneys impressed on it.

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