17th Century Silver Fork/Spoons.

By Cathy Chivers

On a recent visit to the Gruuthuse Museum in Bruges I noticed a silver/fork spoon. It was highly decorated and displayed alongside its original leather case, intrigued I decided to do a little research about it. The "pliable" fork with spoon had been made by the Brugean silversmith Carel Van Nieukerke in 1619-20 (fig.1). During the 17th century people would carry with them, their own cutlery. The folding fork/spoons were used when travelling and considered an elegant luxury. The prongs on the fork would slide along the back and an independently fixed bowl could be added. This three-pronged fork with profiled handle terminates on a figure of Hermes. In the centre of the spoon is a medallion in which St. Cornelius is represented. He is patron of the owner Cornelie Vanderplancke (the inscription on the reverse). The telescoping leather box has floral decoration.

Figure 1 - courtesy of the Gruuthuse Museum, Bruges.

The Victoria & Albert Museum Silver Department has been very helpful in my quest to find more information, and we have been regular email correspondents. On my first visit to their galleries I discovered a fork/spoon in their 'can you identify this?,' box, within their 'hands on' section. The next visit was to see two more silver fork /spoons in the new Whiteley Galleries.

The first jointed silver fork/spoon combination has the bowl engraved with Hebe and floriated ornaments. The handle is chased with minute arabesques surmounted by a Goats head. It is 6.5 inches long and has a gilt leather case (fig.2).

Figure 2 - courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

The second object on display was made in Bruges of silver (parcel-gilt) c1624. The date is engraved on the back of the stem but it is suggested this could refer to the year the spoon was purchased (fig. 3 & 4).

The Assistant Curator has searched her records and found details of three other fork/spoons one of which is on view. The first is a silver - gilt spoon with fork handle made in Nuremberg around 1600 with a makers mark of Casper Widemann, it has a winged Eros collar around the handle which is moveable and masks the hinge. The terminal unscrews to reveal a toothpick. The second is a joined silver spoon/fork with a plain bowl. The stem is surmounted by a man with a beard reaching to his knees. The inscription stating that Claus Joost ordered this spoon to be made in Genoa in 1592.

The third being another conjoined silver spoon/fork. The fork forms a handle for the spoon and has a jointed stem, which is fixed by a band surmounted by a lion mask. There is an engraving of a bunch of fruit suspended on a ribbon and the baluster shaped top of the fork handle also unscrews to reveal a pick.

This research has made me appreciate the skill and ingenuity of the silversmith. During the next century forks and spoons became two separate tools having a more functional and practical aspect.

Figure 3. - courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Figure 4.

I would like to thank Megan Thomas from the V&A and Mr Stephane Vandenberghe curator of the Gruuthuse museum for their valuable help.


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The Finial, February/March 2003

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