spoon holder / spoon-holder / spoonholder
Any vessel used to hold and display spoons.
Laura spread the clean white tablecloth, and in the center of the table she set the glass sugar bowl, the glass pitcher full of cream, and the glass spoonholder full of silver spoons all standing on their handles. – Laura Ingalls Wilder, By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 21, “Merry Christmas”
The first mention of a spoon holder in the Little House books dates from the Ingallses’ first Christmas in the Surveyors’ House, and it’s unclear if the glassware was something brought from Plum Creek or if it was part of the pretty dishes the surveyors left behind (see By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 14, “The Surveyors’ House”). Why did a bunch of surveyors need pretty dishes, anyway? A spoon-holder next appears on the table at Ma’s wedding dinner for Laura and Almanzo Wilder, supporting the idea that it belonged to the family (see These Happy Golden Years, Chapter 33, “Little Gray Home in the West”).
Also called a spooner, this is one of the items that Laura writes in multiple ways throughout her series: spoon holder, spoon-holder, or spoonholder. It was any vessel used to hold and display spoons, and could be made of almost any material. I have spoons in a mason jar beside the coffee maker. A spooner was usually sold as part of a larger glassware set, which might also contain one or more pitchers, sugar bowl and creamer, butter dish, celery container, sauce dishes, compotes, pickle or relish trays, and serving plates. Matching drinking glasses, mugs, and cups were often available.
In The First Four Years (see “The First Year”), Laura and Almanzo Wilder ordered a set of glassware from the Montgomery Ward catalog for their first Christmas together in 1885. Laura wrote that the pretty set contained “a sugar bowl, spoon-holder, butter dish, six sauce dishes, and a large oval-shaped bread plate.” Several pieces of the Wilders’ set are on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, including the bread plate with “Give us this day our daily bread” around its rim. This pressed glass pattern was made by McKee and Brothers in Pennsylvania and called the City set, also known today as Crossed Disks. A spooner in the pattern is shown above. Highly sought after by Laura fans, pieces do show up on auction sites quite often. Gilbert Beeson has an excellent article about the glassware online, including the City set advertising page from a McKee catalog.
The pattern of the glass spooner used by the Ingallses in By the Shores of Silver Lake is not known. It’s likely that the Ingallses’ glassware was pressed glass, a durable and common form of everyday tableware made by pouring molten glass into cast-iron molds. Hundreds of patterns were produced in the years between the Civil War and World War I, and items were added or discontinued based on how well they were selling at the time. Sets cost anywhere from a few dollars to ten or more, based on how intricate or popular the pattern. Pressed glass tends to be fairly heavy and solid, and often has mold marks (lines where pieces of the mold came together) and/or air bubbles in the glass.
There’s another spooner out there that’s known to have been owned by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Once upon a time, a series of black and white photographs were sold at Rocky Ridge, reproductions of old pictures taken by the Wilders of the farm or farm animals, and some of items now on display in the Museum or Wilder homes, taken by museum staff. One showed Laura’s silver castor set and her spooner, shown in detail here. I used to think the pattern looked familiar, but I only realized this week that I already owned a creamer in the same pattern; it belonged to my great-grandmother! I ran right to ebay and bought a matching sugar bowl and spooner.
Laura’s spooner was made by U.S. Glass Company in 1906 and by Federal Glass Company in 1910. The pattern is called Cannon Ball Pinwheel / Cannonball Pinwheel, but it also can be found under the name Caledonia or simply Pinwheel. Having only seen two pieces in the pattern (in those years before ebay), Bob H. Batty described the pattern in his A Complete Guide to Pressed Glass (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, Inc., 1978, pages 223-224):
Smaller pieces sit on a flat, wide ringbase and are quite stable, yet taller pieces are easily overturned. The base has a 29-ray star impressed. Most of the body is covered by a wide belt of figurework composed of four circles with alternating, vertical ellipses. Each ellipse overlaps two circles and cuts an arc from each. The top and bottom portions of each ellipse are filled with fine cut figures. The two lateral triangular segments are filled with short, wide ribbed fans. Each circle contains a beautiful whirling pinwheel with a large and highly raised cannon ball at its center. [Note: the cannon ball really does protrude: it’s as if half a clear marble has been attached to the center of each pinwheel.] Above and below each pinwheel is a half-inch-wide arched prism topped by sharp pointed pyramids which resemble the meshed teeth of a shark. The milk pitcher has a one-inch-wide band of impressed rays below the pinwheels. It was utilized to fill space on the taller pitcher, and is not found on the creamer. The rim corresponds in general to the top of the design. The wide scallops are crenulated and the narrow ones are left plain. The creamer was made in a four-part mold.
Rather than placing a spoon at each place setting with the knife and/or fork, the practice of placing spoons in a spooner on the table seems to have several origins. First of all, not every meal required the use of spoons, yet they were used for coffee or tea between meals. Company was most often presented food or drinks that required a spoon (coffee, tea, custard, ice cream), so many housewives collected spoons in silver or silverplate for special occasions, while their everyday tableware was made of steel. Ma has silver spoons for her spooner, but the rest of the table is set with steel, even at the end of These Happy Golden Years. The wealthier Wilders in Farmer Boy have silver flatware that must only be pieced out with the brightly-polished steel to set the whole table when company comes. Laura’s wedding gift from Almanzo is silverplated flatware.
But why place the spoons in the holder with the bowls up? It’s the handles of silverware that are usually highly decorative, and it’s more hygienic to grasp a spoon by the handle than by the part that goes in the mouth, isn’t it? I used to think the Ingallses did things differently, but all the old timers that I’ve asked remember spoons displayed bowls up. This period photograph supports that – see the spooner?
I did an experiment with my spoons in the mason jar. Uh, now I know why they’re placed handle down. When the bowls are down, they tend to nest with each other (they are spooning), and you have to wiggle and waggle them in order to remove just one without spilling others. Read on…
Although Laura Ingalls Wilder includes some superstitions in the Little House books (“Married in black, you’ll wish yourself back”), she didn’t include some common ones that concern spoons and spooners. Did you know that if you accidentally pick up two spoons from the spooner at the same time, you’ll soon be invited to a wedding? If you spill the spooner, company is coming. If you drop a spoon, the minister is coming.
I wonder who dropped a spoon the night Reverend Alden showed up at the Surveyors’ House?
spoon holder / spoon-holder / spoonholder (SSL 21; THGY 33; PG)