Colonial era spoons were often made of pewter, as goods made from pewter were shipped to colonial America by the tons. It was a material of the middle to lower upper classes, with wood and tin being the plates and furnishings of the lower classes. By the revolution, people realized they were being poisoned by it, as pewter contains lead. So the lead was replaced with antimony and pewter continued its reign among cutlery till about 1825, when the price dropped on silver and china and incomes rose to meet it.
Philipsburg Manor, as one can tell by the name, was the home of the gentry, first Dutch and then English. Located along the Hudson River in Westchester county New York, you’ve probably read about it without even realizing it. The mill pond which Ichabod Crane walks with his dates in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is still there, with a working mill at Philipsburg Manor. The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, where Washington Irving first found his inspiration for his tale was built by the lord of the manor. And the bridge where Ichabod Crane and the headless horseman conclude their chase through Sleepy Hollow, once spanned the Pocantico River within eyesight of the manor house at Philipsburg Manor.
So it would be quite natural for the Philipse family to have an admirable collection of spoons, which they would have taken great pride in showing off. Whether pewter or silver, there wouldn’t be anyone in this backwater who could boast of such riches. Today, our spoons are delegated to the silverware drawer, which isn’t quite accurate, as our real silver is usually hidden away in a chest someplace, only to be taken out at Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In short, items which were once luxuries over time become commodities. But what you don’t find in a commodity is character. Today one might look at the spoon holder at Philipsburg Manor and think, “yeah, bunch of old tarnished spoons.” It’s likely they didn’t look a whole lot better in colonial days, but then again, things didn’t have to be perfect in those times. Sometimes objects were valued for what they represented, not necessarily for their beauty or utility. What we take for granted today, was once treasured. My advice is next time you cook supper, open up the silverware chest and live a little.
A great time to visit Philipsburg Manor is October, where storyteller Jonathan Kruk tells the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by candlelight in the Old Dutch Church. For a review, click here