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.
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.
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.
The same 1886 Meriden Britannia catalog also featured “tête à tête” 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.
Many companies offered these “tête à tête” sets, Pairpoint being one of them.
Many manufacturers offered their “tête à tête” tongs in a variety of patterns:
However, in the following Rogers & Bro. pricelist, “bon bon tongs” are also listed along with “tête à tête” tongs and regular sugar tongs:
“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:
And an 1892 Rogers & Bro. ad for bon bon tongs:
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:
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:
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.
And five more of Mr. Wallace’s patents for tongs:
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
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!