Souvenir shops offer collectible spoons virtually anywhere you travel in the West, and increasingly in other parts of the world as well.
Inexpensive and mass produced, these keepsakes are meant to help us remember a special place, sometimes a special event, and can be displayed in specially designed racks and cases. Many of them are made of Sterling silver or are silver plated — an age-old tradition — but they are so small that almost anyone can afford them. In reality, they are just the modern remnant of a classic tradition, a type of memorabilia with real significance and value.
Collecting spoons has been around for hundreds of years, simply because the spoon has had cultural significance in many places. Spoons are associated with the beginning of life and, accordingly, a spoon was a traditional baptism gift. People just naturally treasured these collectible spoons.
Later, the habit of giving a spoon as a gift and the tradition of commemorating special events with creative objects of precious metal were melded to produce the commemorative spoon — a relatively inexpensive but precious keepsake symbolic of something special.
Spoon collectors differentiate between new souvenir spoons and old spoons. The old spoons, by definition, were made prior to World War I. They were almost all manufactured from precious metals, particularly silver, and though inexpensive compared to the larger silver and gold treasures of the day, they still required a significant investment. They still do.
New collectible spoons — those manufactured after World War I— are much less valuable. Because some new spoons were made with old molds, it can be difficult to tell the two apart. Serious spoon collecting requires a solid knowledge of the subject.
A small group of people are serious collectors of spoons who covet the old commemorative spoons. These treasures, manufactured in small numbers until about 1890, but in much larger numbers after that, are heavily decorated. Handles are shaped like figures, leaves, guns, scenic vistas and other things. Bowls are etched, engraved, embossed, stamped, or cast with pictures of buildings, portraits, scenes, or other decorative illustrations.
Old spoon collectibles almost always depict something that had great importance to the people who kept them. They are mementos of specific events. Thus, spoon collecting is actually a way to revisit and preserve history with a series of valuable objects.
There are a number of ways to acquire old souvenir spoons. Serious spoon collectors have meetings and auctions, where they display, buy, sell, and trade items from their collections. Before taking part in such an event, it’s a good idea for new enthusiasts to learn a bit about old collectible spoons. Most of them have features that can help identify their origin and age: maker’s marks or hallmarks, state seals, emblems, or mottoes, logos etc. Serious spoon collecting also requires a working knowledge of the special terms used, and the ability to tell when a seller is using these terms incorrectly.
The internet has revolutionized spoon collecting as it has so many other hobbies. Now, it’s easy for people with spoons to sell to find prospective buyers and those hoping to acquire more spoons for collections can shop anywhere without leaving home. Dedicated internet sites and sites like eBay provide both buying opportunities and information about collectible spoons.
Inexperienced buyers should approach internet purchases with care however: posted photographs often do not show up signs of wear and surface damage, and the price that a spoon sells for typically does not predict its actual value — it only tells you what someone was willing to pay for the spoon and what the seller was willing to accept.
To get a good grounding in the value of old spoons and what people pay for them today —from a few dollars to over $1000 US — get to know other spoon collectors and learn as much as you can from them.