article # 94



by Willand Ringborg ©
(click on photos to enlarge image)

development of rococo style in Swedish silver soup spoons

The breeze from south - French influence in art and silversmithing

In Sweden, the French influence in art and craftsmanship came to its full expression by the crowning of King Gustaf III year 1772. He was a strong admirer of continental art and culture, particularly French, built the Royal Opera, started academies of literature and art (and sciences). And the French language became literally "Lingua Franca" in the Swedish court. Court architects, ebonists, decorators, fountain makers and fire-works designers were called for service in Stockholm from abroad. Names like Deprez and Mazrelies have left a strong heritage in the Stockholm and Swedish art history. The French new style became highest fashion, but the impact of the previous baroque style still was present.

This exercise will guide us through the style change in late 18th century and early 19th century. We will not examine masterpieces and large format silver but mirror the development in such a minor object as a spoon can show us. But also in this very common thing as table services, the history of art is represented.

The anatomy of a spoon

To be familiar with the nomenclature and the discussion of particulars, let us first examine the spoon details. The concepts are general for all kind of spoons, in spite of size or use.
The anatomy of a spoon

The baroque backlogging

Spoons in silver of course originated in shape and style from similar ones in bone or wood. They were not prestigious things for ornamenting but simple, although valuable, tools. The use of serving sets in the 18th century was still uncommon and the spoons were the first to be more frequent. When it came to fork and knife, the guest at the inn was expected to carry a knife by himself. Forks were uncommon or even unknown. Baroque ornamenting on spoons was rare, in opposite to tankards, tumblers and other bigger pieces.
Simple silver spoon, with central ridge, Stockholm 1761
The back of the stem of the previous spoon, the bowl soldered to the extended drop of the stem, the "rats' tail" soldering was at this time abandoned as obsolete. The full stamp regime of Sweden introduced 1759 is visible, town mark for Stockholm, three crowns for silver fineness over 828/000, letter C for 1861 and IPB for the silversmith J P Berkhan. To the right the older “aldermans scratch” for silver content testing, although already obsolete, but was still scratched as a proof as this method was still in customers' memory.
A later, baroque style remains at tip of handle, flower engraving, initials and 1772. The spoon is torn at the side and the tip of the bowl by long time use

The early signs

The curved rococo form appears slowly and is applied to the handle. The shaping was also functional, when holding the spoon from under, it is more comfortable to keep the spoon with the fingers with the curved shape as a support. Still we can see the remains of older shaping of the bowl to be symmetrically oval.
Weak rococo violin shape of handle, oval bowl, 1804
More of rococo expression, broader handle and more swing, the violin form is now appearing stronger, the bowl is becoming egg formed. Same silversmith, 1811

The style in the capital, and in the provinces

The development of taste and style was of course determined by where the influences struck the country, in the capital Stockholm. The first to accept was the court, the noble families and the wealthy strata of the population created a demand on what was up-to-date. But there were as well other ways for the influences, silversmiths spent often their time as apprentices abroad, learnt from maybe more than one master silversmith and had access to pattern-books. The rococo style was also introduced by the supply side and this also in Swedish provinces far from Stockholm. This is why styles appear, and are accepted, in regions far from the fashionable taste in the capital, which not seldom was scorned by the rest of the country. And another tendency was apparent, farmers, bourgeois people and craftsmen were to put there savings in silver.
Matured rococo, ridge still there, a minor decoration appears to mark shoulders, 1806…..

Silver, the old savings bank

The savings were commonly stored as spoons, not in full serving sets with forks and knives, but bought or ordered one by one. There are many stories of measuring prosperity in counting spoons. Sometimes a cupboard was arranged with a shelf carved for silver spoons to hang for visibility, and when the doors were opened the guests could admire the hosts collection and wealth. The silver savings role in the household was threefold, - a capital investment, for use in parties and celebrations and finally as status symbol. Spending excess earnings in silver was regarded as non risky, and the liquidity was still there, if one needed cash for unexpected expenditures, it was just to go to the nearest pawn-shop and borrow, the silver was still safely stored.

All spoons presented here – exceptions particularly mentioned – are from such an area with such habits, a province south of Stockholm, known for its strong silversmithing tradition, Ostergotland.
...and an even broader handle, ridge visible, 1811

The full expression

The violin form when it appears in its full expression, the waist of the handle is slim and the edge to the stem is emphasised. The back part of the handle close to the terminal opposite to the bowl is wide and counterweights the form of the bowl and balances both the shape and function.
Slim waist, wide handle, 1812
Soup spoon, 1813 and serving spoon (ragout spoon) 1842 by the same silversmith. The rococo style of the handle of the serving spoon is in this late period not so emphasised, the shaping is similar in size with the soup spoon, and function dominates style expression. The peak of Rococo was over and replaced by the empire style.

Gift spoons

A soup spoon were not only a saving, it was also a common gift, with a particular intention, it was a memorial that remained for the receiver’s lifetime, and longer, it had an undisputed value, and it was also for practical use, even day to day (there are several examples of single spoons which are torn by usage and teeth).
The following occasions were typical in giving away a soup spoon:
- christening day to a child (sometimes smaller spoon or teaspoon)
- wedding
- to a house servant for long service in a household
- funerals
To memorialize the event, the giver often had the spoon engraved with the initials of the receiver, in the case of wedding both. The reason for giving away was sometimes engraved. Funeral spoons are a little special; they were given to the closest of the relatives to the dead – and to the coffin bearers - engraved with the full name of the corpse and the date of the death. 
Spoon of rococo violin style with engraving (translated) and initials "For loyalty and diligence" APL GEL, stamped 1813

Rococo style reshaped and longstanding

The curved form of rococo gained long popularity and when the machine made chased silver came in production, the French impact showed up again and the "French pattern" became widespread and sold in complete serving sets with forks, knives, teaspoons, ladles ….
The French pattern, mostly in plated silver, has since long been one of the most common and widespread table services. And the era of handicraft and the forerunners is now 200 years away.
Rococo style tea spoon known as "French pattern", an early example, south Sweden 1853
Finally, a christening spoon, chased with the rococo style remaining in the shaping of the shell, and here in the wide spread Kings Pattern. 
Dessert spoon to a child, bite-marks, engraved text on handle (translated)"Christening gift to C.W.C.Chadier", north Sweden 1848-68
Silver spoons from 18th century and beginning of 19th are fairly popular and with the relatively high production, by reasons made clear above, the possibility to acquire them is always present. The older and higher qualities are of course of more limited supply and the violin variety is, because of its beauty and age, an attractive collector’s item. 
Willand Ringborg © - 2008 -