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Vintage Silverware Tells a "Story" Just Like Vintage Photos Tell a "Story"

Have you ever looked at a vintage photo and wondered?
  • “What is going on at this very moment in time?”
  • “Why are these people doing this activity (picnic, climbing a tree, sitting on a tricycle)?”
  • “Are they in love or are the just friends?”
  • “What is going through their minds? Are they annoyed, are they trying to be funny?”
  • “What happened 3 minutes after the photo was taken? Did they fall to the floor in laughter or did they break into an argument for the ages?” 

Collage of Vintage Photos Woman on Tricycle Ladies in 1960s Kitchen and Young Women in Park with Scarves on their Heads

I know I wonder about the “story” a photo is telling every time I Iook at a vintage photo.

I have the same “story” curiosity about antique objects – they pique my curiosity about a time in the world that had different goals, fears, values, experiences, traditions, equipment etc. Furthermore, antique silverware has always had special place in my heart because, for me, there is a strong connection between sharing meals, family, traditions and love. Antique silverware has always been something to which I have been drawn and about which I have been very curious.

Obviously, vintage silverware is beautiful as a work of art. But it is also beautiful as a quiet story teller and does so in several ways: historical cultural significance, historical designs and patina wear.

At one point in history there was a specific piece of silverware for every single food type. (Well, not really every single piece, but it seems like there was!). Why was this the case? What pieces went with what foods? The answers to these questions have a lot to do with the culture at the time. In the late 19th and early 20th century, which is predominantly the Victorian era, wealthier families had servants that prepared their meals for them and these meals were often quite elaborate. During the Victorian era, there was rapid prosperity and growth; wealth was a motivating cultural factor, and which gave rise to ostentatious ornamentation in all areas of life intended to create the feeling of being “rich.” During this time there was a cultural emphasis on wealth, beauty, luxury and propriety. As such many pieces of silverware were created for specific foods a way to add beauty to the table and to maintain propriety by keeping the hands and table clean. For example, a tomato server is a wide, flat and round piece of silverware that is pierced with holes. This server is designed to lift individual fruit slices in a very refined and delicate manner that allow excess juices to drain away before lifting.

Flatware Piece Type Guide from Silverware of the 20th Century: The Top 250 Patterns by Harry L. Rinker

Flatware Piece Type Guide from Silverware of the 20 Century: The Top 250 Patterns by Harry L. Rinker.

Beautiful handle design also tells a quiet historical story. If you look at the artistic handle designs, some designs are ornate and intricate while others can be whimsical and yet others can be stoic and reserved. The designs often reflect the times. As I said earlier, during the Victorian era, because of rapid prosperity, wealth was a motivating cultural factor, which gave rise to ostentatious ornamentation in all areas of life and was intended to create the feeling of being “rich.” This flamboyant ornamentation was reflected in Victorian design, with layers upon layers of intricate and detailed design that was rhythmic, symmetrical, pattern-loving and often floral. Conversely, when we as a culture were in a period of war or depression, the designs became a little more reserved and austere or streamlined reflecting the simplicity of the time. These cultural and design forces are reflected in the silverware designs.

Grouping of various silverwplate silverware handles from the late Victorian era
Silverware can even tell a story by the scratches, dents or other wear marks. While it is not evident how the marks got onto the pieces, I still wonder about the story behind those marks on each on each individual piece. When I pick up a piece to begin creating, I see the wear marks or the lack of wear marks and begin to wonder…

  • Was this piece used daily by a deeply-in-love couple that sat down to every dinner together as a way to connect after a long day of work?
  • Was this piece used by a large family for family gatherings during a special holidays?
  • Was this piece from a silverware set lovingly chosen by a young couple who were destined for lifelong happiness or was this piece from a set of a couple that had a not so story book ending to their relationship? 
  • Was this piece from a set that was passed down through generations? 
  • Does this piece represent love, or family and tradition, or happiness or sorrow? 
  • Does this piece symbolize beginnings or endings? 

Simply put, what story is the piece trying to tell and how do its flaws, or lack thereof, enrich that story?

Just as an old photograph tells a story, our goal at Laughing Frog Studio is to create upcycled silverware creations that continue to tell the story of the original piece. We bring patterns and pieces out from their dark wooden coffins into the light of day, upcycle them into a brand new form and function and give them a second chance at being a valued and a beloved storyteller for the new owner.


Other Blog Posts

Silverplate vs. Sterling? What's the Difference?

Welcome to Laughing Frog Studio

The Secret Meaning of Flowers on Upcycled Silverware Jewelry


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