The Mystery Of A Million Spoons

Have you ever noticed that there are certain items that seem to turn up at practically every site you metal detect at? I feel like spoons are one of those types of items. The spoon is basically the oldest eating utensil in the world with the exception of our fingers. Spoons predate both the knife and the fork. They have existed since ancient times. Spoons have been used in every human culture that exists in the world. Everyone uses spoons. They come in a variety of shapes and are made from a variety of different types of the materials.

Iron Spoons

Pewter Spoons

Silver Spoons

A spoon is just a simple shallow bowl attached to a handle. It's an ordinary, utilitarian object. Spoons don't get a whole lot of attention. People generally don't create much of a fuss over common, every day items. It's difficult to imagine life without the simple tool of a spoon though. It's a pretty important invention that we often undervalue. In today's world, there is a spoon for every type of cooking or serving need you could possibly have. It may be hard to believe but spoons were once a luxury. During the 17th Century, spoons were a coveted possession. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the type of spoons and other cutlery you owned were a symbol of a certain standard of living. The thing about luxuries though is that over time they sometimes become commodities. Commodities often get taken for granted and when you dig up a thousand spoons you tend to lose what little appreciation you have left for them.

When out metal detecting you seem to find spoons everywhere. Sometimes it feels like all you have to do is turn around and you find one. It would be really nice if that happened with say old coins or, I don't know, gold rings. For whatever the reason there seems to be a plethora of spoons in the ground. I have never actually taken the time to count the ones I have found, but I personally have probably dug up close to a hundred spoons. My hunting partners always find a bunch too. I've asked a few other people and the consensus is clear. It seems like everyone, at least in the Northeast States, has found an insane number of spoons. There seems to be no limit to the locations where you can discover all these spoons too. You'll find them in parks, at the beach, near the lake, alongside railroad tracks, at old home sites, even in farm fields. I spend a lot of time detecting around cellar holes and I don't think there is a single cellar hole I have detected at, where one of us didn't find a spoon. Usually you wind up with a dozen of them.

Who knew that there were so many lost spoons in the world? I say lost rather than discarded because people in the 18th, 19th and even the 20th century wouldn't have just thrown away a tool that was of such importance. A lot of old spoons were made from pewter. Pewter was a valuable and reusable resource during the 18th and 19th century. When a pewter item broke or wore out one could simply melt the item down and re-pour it to make a new spoon or another item. People don't generally throw away valuable reusable resources. A lot of spoons we find are silver. Silver spoons had monetary value. They still do. People don't usually just throw away money. So, I have an awful hard time envisioning so many people just throwing away their silver spoons.

Silver Infant Feeding Spoon Made By Philip Huntington (1770-1825)

CT Todd had this particular silver spoon that he found restored. They untwisted the handle and reformed the bowl and profile. It is marked with the original owners initials E.B.S.

Silver Spoon Made By Alexander Scott (1800-1822)

When James Bertolasio found this spoon it was mangled and twisted. He had it restored. The spoon is marked with the original owners initials.

With that being said, have you ever wondered how it is exactly that so many spoons wound up getting lost? Other forms of cutlery don't get discovered even close to the extent that spoons seem to. I have only found a few forks and one, maybe two dinner knives. Why are there a million spoons hiding in the ground? It makes sense that people would lose some spoons here and there, over the years, while outdoors. It's the sheer number of lost spoons that I find mind boggling. I have come up with a few plausible theories regarding the reason or reasons behind why we find so many spoons when out metal detecting.

Small Silver Salt Spoons

Did you know that in the 17th century people carried around their own personal eating utensils with them? These eating implements they carried around with them consisted of a spoon and a knife. People didn't start using forks as eating utensils until later on. They transported their spoons in cutlery pouches, their pockets, and sometimes even in the slit of their hats. When it was time to eat they pulled their traveling spoons out and enjoyed their meal. This practice was common into the beginning of the 18th century. Now most of us aren't digging up a whole lot of 17th century spoons here in the states, but this bit of information does make me wonder about how often people might have traveled about with their eating utensils during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. If people were traveling around with spoons well then you know that they probably would have lost a few here and there.

1600's Latten Spoons

Dave Wise dug the spoons pictured below. Latten spoons are generally brass and most have touch marks in their bowls.

Large sized Complete Rat Tailed Pewter Spoon with Dog Nose Handle (Circa 1750)

Rat Tail spoons were developed in the late 17th century. The thin pointed tongue feature on the bottom of the bowl reinforces the joint of the bowl and the handle.

Pewter Spoon Handle (1757-1784)

This spoon handle that was dug by Philip Mandolare has a makers mark on it. The Pewter Society of England identified the spoon handle as being made by George Grenfell (1757-1784).

By the middle of the 18th century dining utensils had become more available and affordable. Traveling spoons became a thing of the past. Table place settings became a sign of refinement and were an important element when serving meals. Since the beginning of time people have enjoyed meals outdoors when the weather was nice. Serving tea to friends or visitors was a social affair during this time too. Who wouldn't want to sit outside and enjoy a cup of tea or a meal for that matter? As people ate outdoors they may have lost a spoon or two. They could have fallen to the ground and become forgotten. In the middle of the 19th century picnics became quite popular. They were a favorite pastime. Folks really seemed to enjoy sitting down and sharing a meal while they appreciated the beautiful scenery of their estates. You can eat just about any type of food with a spoon too. They're handier to have around than say a fork. Victorian times brought picnicking to the masses. One could reason that the more often people ate outdoors the more likely they were to lose their spoons.

Silver Spoon Made By Hayden & Bros. Charleston SC. (1830'S-1840'S)

Peter Eles dug this spoon in a Yankee camp that was located down the road from a big plantation. The spoon has the original owners initials and family crest on it. Peter believes that the spoon was stolen from the plantation by one of the Union soldiers. The plantation was set on fire by the Union troops and burned down.

Mount Beacon Mattewan NY. Souvenir Spoon

Hotel Washington, Newburgh NY. Spoon

A few other possibilities to consider. Do you know where most people keep their shoes? Most of the people I know keep them right by the door where they walk in or right outside their door. It's customary in a lot of different cultures to take your shoes off at the door, before entering your own home or someone else's home. People have been keeping their shoes right outside their door for centuries. People have also been using shoe horns for centuries to help assist them with putting their shoes on more easily. If you couldn't find your trusty old shoe horn and were in a hurry you might have to improvise. Now I don't know, this is just a thought, but in a pinch a spoon could make a pretty good shoe horn, don't you think? If you stop and think about it, spoons could be used for a lot of useful purposes other than eating. A pull tab opener, a lever for removing nails, or maybe a useful tool for cleaning the grout from the space between bricks. Spoons would have been very handy when working on animal skins and scraping the pelts. Many rat tail spoons were probably used for this purpose. Spoons are useful for a lot of tasks other than eating. If people were using spoons outdoors for any purpose, they might just have set them down, found themselves busy doing some other task, and ended up forgetting all about them. Over time they would wind up getting covered with dirt and disappear into the ground.

Paye & Baker "Who Killed Cock Robin" Sterling Teaspoon (Circa 1910)

Christopher Columbus Commemorative Spoons

Waldorf Cafeteria Albany NY. Spoon

Another theory would be that people used their spoons for the purpose of digging. Gardens were important and a crucial part of life. Everyone had a garden, but maybe not everyone had a shovel. If you didn't have a shovel, a big spoon would make for an ideal digging tool. Even little spoons are great for planting seeds. When I stopped to think about it I realized that I have found quite a few spoons in and around the garden areas at old cellar holes. Maybe people used spoons to dig and plant a garden. It's not that crazy of an idea. This day and age they actually make shovels that come in the same shape and size as a large spoon. And, I remember someone once telling me that their grandmother used to garden year after year with a big old spoon and a dull carving knife. When you can't afford things, you make do with what you have. If you were gardening with a spoon, it's quite possible that you might lose a few in the dirt.

Now an adult probably wouldn't lose a surplus of spoons while digging in the dirt, but a child certainly could. Children are forgetful. Just think about how many mittens you used to lose as a child just during the season of Winter. Well maybe you don't remember but if you have children of your own you can certainly attest to the fact that they lose a lot of stuff. Young children also love dirt, mud, and anything in between. I shouldn't have to tell you that digging in the dirt is fun. Digging in the dirt is one of those simple joys of childhood. It is embedded within imaginative play. Who didn't try to dig a hole to China when they were a kid? And if you were a kid without a shovel, a spoon was the next best thing for sure. It would have fit perfectly in their little hands, maybe even better than a shovel would have. Did their parents willingly hand the spoons over to them for play time or did the children sneak them outside of the house without their parent's knowledge? I don't know. If you consider the shape of a spoon, it's gentle and nonthreatening curves, it's hard to picture any parent having an issue with their child using a spoon to play with. Babies are given spoons all the time to play with. I'm sure that their parents might not have been all that thrilled when they noticed that their spoons kept disappearing though.

Silver Baby's Spoon

Dan Yarrusso found this spoon at an old tavern site in Fishkill, NY. The spoon has the original owners initials and is marked E. White. The site where the spoon was discovered had a lot of activity during the Revolutionary War.

Aluminum Gold Citrus Spoon Made By Waldo Foundry

The spoon is marked with the date 1894. The Waldo Foundry was dissolved in the year 1902.

Broken Handles

I think it is highly plausible that children may have been responsible for losing a great number of spoons we find while out metal detecting. It certainly is fun to imagine all the possibilities as to why we find as many spoons as we do. I would love to hear your theories on the matter. You can leave a comment in the section below. Also, a big thank you to everyone who shared photos for this week's blog. I hope you enjoyed viewing the photos. Have a great week!

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