The “Assyrian” pattern was designed by Henry W. Hirschfeld; Patent No. 016713 was obtained by him in 1886 and assigned to Meriden Britannia.
The word “Assyrian” is not mentioned within the patent. Nor is there any mention of variations to the design (such as variations in the head or the absence of same).
In the 1886-87 Meriden Britannia catalog, this pattern is predominantly featured as it was a new design for that year. The pattern was identified within the catalog as “Assyrian”. Whether the piece of flatware had a head or was headless…it was simply referred to as “Assyrian”.
The common types of eating utensils such as teaspoons, dessert spoons, table spoons, dinner forks, medium forks and dessert forks were headless. Serving utensils had designs with heads. At first I thought maybe it was a matter of size; the larger pieces had the more intricate patterns including the heads and the smaller did not. But that was not the case. The tiny salt spoon, mustard spoon, coffee spoon (demitasse) and nut picks all had designs with heads.
So if you ordered teaspoons from this catalog, you received teaspoons which were headless as that was all that was offered in the Assyrian pattern. And if you ordered coffee spoons, you received spoons which had heads…there was no choice. That’s how 1847 Rogers Bros. Assyrian pattern was offered.
Looking further at the various pieces of Assyrian flatware offered in this 1886 catalog, I noticed that the heads varied. They were not all the same heads. Some were attractive female heads, some were male and one was almost ghoulish! How bizarre!
After a careful comparison of the heads on all the various pieces within the Meriden Britannia catalog, as well as an 1886 ad and the 1892 Rogers Bro. catalog (who also offered this pattern), I counted thirteen different head variations.
Following tells you where these illustrations came from:
1. 1886-87 Meriden Britannia catalog.
2. 1886-87 Meriden Britannia catalog.
3. 1847 Rogers Bros. Assyrian Coffee Spoon ad in 1886 Frank Leslie’s Newspaper.
4. 1892 Rogers Bro. catalog.
5. 1892 Rogers Bro. catalog.
6.-13. 1886-87 Meriden Britannia catalog.
Number 12 is the one that looks a little ghoulish to me. It is the head that is on the dainty little nut pick illustrated in the Meriden Britannia catalog. It is the only piece that I found with this head on it in that catalog.
The illustrations within this 1886 catalog are incredibly beautiful. The Introduction by Edmund P. Hogan reads as follows:
“The catalog is illustrated throughout with wood engravings. These pictures were actually engraved by hand onto the surface of blocks of fine-grained wood. It required a large measure of artistic ability to render the elaborate and highly embellished patterns so popular in 1886. Meriden Britannia Co. had its own wood engraving department, in which six or eight men were steadily employed.”
Notice the cheese scoop in the photo below…this will be discussed later.
Note that the child’s fork and knife on the page below were headless designs.
At some point after this 1886-87 catalog was printed, the design with the head was named “Assyrian Head” and the headless version remained “Assyrian”.
Following is an advertisement from an 1886 Frank Leslie’s newspaper. They feature a coffee spoon (demitasse) with the head and they refer to it as “Assyrian Coffee Spoon” and not “Assyrian Head Coffee Spoon”.
In the Rogers Bro. 1892 catalog (Rogers Bro….not 1847 Rogers) they showed both patterns by name “Assyrian” and “Assyrian Head” and it appears they offered all flatware, including eating utensils, in both patterns. This way the buyer could pick and choose which pieces of flatware they wanted in each pattern.
In 1886 you did not have a choice of two patterns. 1847 Rogers produced both patterns but called them simply “Assyrian” and they decided which pieces had head designs and which did not.
I mentioned earlier that I would be discussing the cheese scoop a little further. The scoop shown on the page above has a design with a head. A few pages further back from this page in the 1886-87 Meriden Britannia catalog, there is what is identified as a “Norman” pattern cheese scoop.
This scoop actually has the Assyrian Head design (although this face is different from the other 13 faces that I’ve found on other pieces) but the bulbous top and roped design sides differentiates it from the standard Assyrian Head scoop. This “Norman” pattern also came in a carving knife, fork and steel for sharpening (all with the same head as depicted above).
And although the nut pick has a pretty grotesque face, the nut crack takes the cake. This is the crack as it appears in the 1886-87 catalog:
And this is a right side up close-up of that face on the crack:
As a reminder, this is a close-up of the head on the nut pick:
What were they thinking? Can you imagine having a cocktail or two at a dinner party and then sitting down at the dining table adorned with silverplate flatware with all of these heads staring back at you? Scary thought. Good thing they offered the headless “Assyrian” pattern to offset all those heads.
And, I wonder, were any of these pieces actually manufactured with these dramatic heads? In searching the internet now, it seems that many of the flatware pieces represented in this catalog have since been produced in the original patent pattern which is a benign female face.
Again, the search continues….not only for the earlier faces represented in the 1886-87 catalog but also for further information.
UPDATE: I’ve confirmed that both the nut pick and nut crack with the devilish grotesque faces were actually manufactured. I have a nut pick with what is called the “male” face (to differentiate it from the female face) for sale at my Etsy shop:
This nut pick can be found here at my Etsy shop: http://www.etsy.com/listing/164503933/1847-rogers-bros-silver-plated-assyrian