Teaspoons, souvenir spoons, and handmade examples of this familiar utensil can be incredibly rare and valuable. Being able to spot a rare antique spoon is a good skill to have as you browse at antique shops, flea markets, and auctions. It's also worth checking your heirlooms to see if you have one of these valuable beauties, which can be worth thousands of dollars.
How to Identify Rare Antique Spoons
Common vintage spoons can be worth under a dollar, but some very fine antique examples can be worth so much more. The key is determining whether the spoon is rare. While there's no tried-and-true old spoon identifier, here are some clues to help you tell if you have something special.
Look for Signs the Spoon Was Handmade
Since the middle of the 19th century, most sterling silver, silver-plated, and other metal spoons have been made by machine. These mass-produced spoons tend to be more common, since a machine can turn out lots of the same design in a fairly short period. Handmade examples are far less common. Even if a spoon is made by a machine and then engraved or chased by hand, these handmade touches can make it fairly rare.
Look for the following signs that a spoon was made by hand:
- Lack of uniformity - Although a skilled silversmith could make a nearly perfect spoon, you may see signs that the spoon isn't perfectly symmetrical or uniform.
- Tool marks - Chasing and engraving were done with tools that moved silver and reshaped the design on a spoon. Artists often left marks from their tools, so you may see these when you look with a magnifying glass.
- Silversmith's mark - Examine the silver hallmarks on the back or handle of the spoon to see if it may have been made by a silversmith. If so, it was probably handmade.
- Unique details - Hand-sculpted details like figural items on the handle or a specially shaped bowl can also indicate a spoon that was made by hand.
Identify Spoons in Rare Patterns
Some silver patterns were rarer than others at the time they were produced. Others have been lost or destroyed over the years, leaving only a few examples of that pattern left in existence. Take some time to identify the pattern of the spoon and determine whether it's one of the rarest ones in existence. Turn the spoon over and look at the marks and dates on it, and then look up that manufacturer to see what patterns they may have made.
These are a few of the rarest patterns for silver spoons:
- Bird on Nest by Whiting - Featuring a sculpted bird sitting on a nest on the handle and spoon bowls in shape of wings, this rare spoon pattern is very beautiful.
- Raphael by Alvin - This iconic Art Nouveau pattern features a woman with flowing hair holding a flower. It's not impossible to find, but it's quite rare.
- Japanese by Tiffany & Co. - Tiffany & Co. made some of the most coveted silver spoons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and their Japanese pattern is among the rarest.
- Chrysanthemum by Durgin - Another rare antique spoon pattern is this beautiful design featuring chrysanthemums by noted silver manufacturer Durgin.
Look for Rare Serving Spoons
At the height of the silver spoon's popularity in the late 19th century, silver manufacturers made all different kinds of spoons. While the standard teaspoon and tablespoon are what many people think of first, there are serving spoons for every possible dish that graced Victorian tables. You can recognize these by their shapes, and they are almost always rarer than spoons that are part of a standard place setting.
Here are some of the rarest serving spoons to watch for:
- Ice spoons - These large spoons tend to be 10 inches or longer, and they can feature elaborate designs in the bowl. The bowl is usually pierced and thick enough that it would not be dented or bent by scooping ice.
- Bonbonieres - Also called a bon bon spoon, this rare serving spoon is large with a round pierced bowl. It's meant for scooping candies or bon bons.
- Pea spoons - Pea spoons have round bowls with scallops around the edge. The shape helps funnel individual peas into the bowl.
- Pudding spoons - These large serving spoons have a pointed bowl, allowing them to cut into a pudding while serving it.
- Olive spoons - Featuring a small pierced bowl and long handle, these little spoons were designed to help fish a single olive out of its brine.
- Berry spoons - These serving spoons have large, round bowls. They are often highly detailed with sculpted berries.
Check Souvenir Spoons for Rare Locations and Motifs
In the 20th century, people travelling to locations around the US would often buy souvenir spoons as a reminder of their trips. These silver spoons feature all kinds of unique figural designs and engraving, but some are quite common. The key is to find rare souvenir spoon motifs and lesser known locations.
Look for the following types of souvenir spoons:
- Famous Native Americans - Many souvenir spoons featured Native Americans in figural designs on the handles, but if you can find specific famous people, these can be rare and valuable. One example is spoons featuring Chief Ouray of the Ute. Spoons with his image can be worth hundreds.
- Patriotic or historic designs - Some souvenir spoons, especially those from famous landmarks, feature patriotic designs, historical figures, and other types of Americana. These have great appeal for collectors, but they are still quite difficult to find.
- Lesser known tourist destinations - While there are lots of souvenir spoons from big cities and famous vacation destinations, they aren't as common from lesser known cities or travel spots. This can make them quite valuable.
- Figural nudes - Although a few Art Nouveau silver patterns featured images of nude women, these are quite rare. Similarly, nudes on souvenir spoons are also less common and are highly collectible.
What Makes a Rare Antique Spoon Valuable?
Although rarity is part of the value of antiques, not every rare spoon is valuable. There are lots of factors that can affect the value of rare vintage spoons:
- Material - Rare silver spoons tend to be more valuable than those of other materials. Sterling silver is always more valuable than silver plate.
- Beauty - If a spoon is lovely to look at, it tends to be worth more. These pieces are meant for use and display.
- Condition - A rare spoon isn't worth as much if it's in poor condition with scratches, dings, and other damage. Monograms can also detract from the value.
- Age - In order to be antique, a spoon needs to be at least 100 years old. Older spoons tend to be more valuable than newer ones.
Many sterling silver spoons sell for under $50, and silver-plated spoons can be worth under $5. However, the most expensive silver spoon ever sold went for $32,500 at Heritage Auctions in 2021. It was made by famous silversmith Paul Revere, Jr. in 1790. It is marked by the silversmith and hand engraved with a lovely pattern. Although it is monogrammed, it's still in excellent condition at over 230 years old.
Determining Whether Your Vintage Spoon Is Worth Anything
If you suspect you might have a rare antique spoon, it's worth checking into its value. Take a few minutes to learn about the value of antique silver. If you suspect your spoon is rare or very valuable, consider a professional antique appraisal.