of Small Collectors

  versione italiana article # 53



by Giorgio Busetto
click on images to enlarge


"A spoon with large bowl and pointed stem"
This is the definition I used for an odd 'spoon' bought in the San Maurizio Market in Venice.

Little information was obtained from the seller: ... item made in the 18th/19th century ...French provenance.

Several odd, uncommon and unusual objects are present in my collection, but this 'spoon' was for many years my preferred "question mark".

The 'spoon' was undoubtedly of French provenance and had the 'swan' used since 1893 to mark silver items of unknown origin sold in French public auctions.

It is undoubtedly ancient (18th or 19th century), but its appearance doesn't correspond to any other spoon I had previously seen.

The pointed stem resembled to 18th century 'tea mote spoon', but the bowl had no piercing.
Mote spoons were used to skim floating tea leaves and tea dust (motes) off the surface of a cup of tea. They were a late 17th century invention and used mostly as part of tea-services.
The bowl was too large (5,5 cm. - 2 1/8 in.) and unsuitable for eating use, and the hypothesis 'wedding spoon' was not convincing
silver wedding spoon: Germany end of 19th century
silver wedding spoon: Germany, end of 19th century
On the top, a figure (maybe Christopher Columbus) with an anchor and an 'indio'

This spoon continued to be a question for me.

But, unexpected, the solution arrived some time ago: this object is not a spoon but a "TOPO", a long pin used by 'Cholas' women (original population of Bolivia) to shut down their shawls.

Three "topos" were presented in the exhibition 'Trois siécles d'orfevrerie Hispano-Américaine' (Three centuries of Hispano-American silver) held in Paris in 1986. In the Exhibition's catalog Adolfo Luis Ribera (National Academy of Arts of Buenos Aires) writes:

..... coming from the present Bolivia territories, the 'topos' (or 'tupo') are, in quichua language, the long pins used by women indios (or 'cholas') to keep their shawls closed...
The pin's heads are of great interest, with semi-precious stones or pearls....
Sometime the pin's heads are enriched with embossed motifs standing out the shawl's cloth, or chiselled on bowls similar to spoons.....

silver topo with spoon head
TOPO (left)
Bolivia, 19th century
chiselled silver
long 31,2 cm; max large 5,7 cm.
big shawl's pin with head in the shape of a spoon decorated with floral motifs engraved and chiselled.
Between the head and the pin a flat motif with scrolls on the sides
(Hispano-American Art Museum - Buenos Aires)

TOPO (right)
long 29,4 cm.; max large 5,5 cm.
big shawl's pin with head in the shape of a spoon.
Between the head and the pin a flat motif with scrolls on the sides
silver topo with spoon head
floral motifs and scrolls (
monogram AF and scrolls (
pair of silver topos
High Peru, 18th century
embossed and chiselled silver
long 25,6 cm; large 6 cm.
Almond shape head with irregular rim. A shell on the top, surrounded by smaller shells, birds and scrolls. On the lower part, a human figure, upside down, on floral decoration. A red stone on the middle.
(Hispano-American Art Museum - Buenos Aires)

Bolivia, 19th century
embossed, cast and chiselled silver,
long 49 cm.; max large 12,7 cm.
Monogram IM on the heart. Egg shaped heads. Flowers with gold heart on the middle. Symmetric vegetable decorations with two peacocks (on the top), flowers, and two long neck birds (lower side). White and red semi-precious stones.
(Hispano-American Art Museum - Buenos Aires)
pair of silver topos
monogram IM monogram AF engraving with floral motifs engraving with floral motifs
monogram IM (Hispano-American Art Museum - Buenos Aires)
monogram AF (
floral motifs engraving (Hispano-American Art Museum - Buenos Aires)
floral motifs engraving (
Plaza de Recocijo de Potosi (1830, oil painting)
Potosi (now in Bolivia, once in Vice-Kingdom of Rio de La Plata). The discovery of ore in silver-rich Cerro Rico (rich hill) prompted the foundation of the city of Potosí in 1545. Large-scale excavation began in the site immediately and the city's population increased to nearly 200,000, making it one of the largest and wealthiest city in Latin America. During the early 19th-century, struggles for independence caused much destruction and the city's wealth was removed to Europe or to other parts of the Spanish realm. By then the population dropped to less than 10,000. By the time of independence in 1825, the mines of the Cerro Rico were almost exhausted and Potosi's economy has never recovered.
Trois siècles d'orfèvrerie Hispano-Américaine - Association Française d'Action Artistique. Paris, 1986
Giorgio Busetto - 2006 - -
English text revised by Jayne Dye