The Order of the Spoons

Curtains weren’t the only thing we moved this summer- I am now proud to say that I have been inducted to what we all jokingly dubbed the “Order of the Spoons.”

A bit of background information is possibly in order.

Winterthur possesses a large study collection of silver spoons (around 9,000 pieces), built up over the years into an extremely useful resource for scholars. However, the storage situation for many of these spoons was less than ideal. Hundreds, for instance, were jumbled together in small boxes (making it nearly impossible to find a single spoon quickly). New cabinets for the spoon collection were purchased and moved into metal storage, but then Vivien and Rachel (along with myself and any other graduate fellows or assistants that they could borrow for several hours at a time) had to move thousands of silver spoons into these new cabinets. First, we had to line all the drawers with ethafoam.

Spoons ready to be moved
Spoons ready to be moved

To make matters more complicated, most of the spoons had 3 numbers written on them: 2 that we ignored, and one accession number attached with a paper tag. Without 3 people, the process became extremely slow. With 3, however, our system went something like this…

Person 1:  Take spoons out of their tray or box, arrange on a table in accession-number order. Depending on how many spoons were in the box, this could take quite some time (particularly as I never seemed to be able to judge how much room I needed on the table and would sometimes be blindsided by a series of 6 or 7 spoons all in the same set).

Person 2: Arrange spoons in the new drawer, placing them in alternating directions and making sure that the spoon lay “comfortably.” All the while, they read out the accession numbers of the spoons they are placing.

Person 3: Records the new drawer location of the spoon in question on a huge online spreadsheet.

We periodically switched jobs, so that no one got too tired of one task. It was pretty amusing how excited we all got when there was an occasional silver item that wasn’t a spoon- we would all try to guess what some of the stranger ones were before looking them up in the catalogue. Some of our favorites included: a boatswain’s whistle, a salt sifter, and a commemorative Salem spoon with a witch riding a broomstick!

1998.0004.1740 whistle underside
Silver boatswain’s whistle, 1998.0004.1740, Winterthur Museum                                                                                           The temptation to blow this whistle was difficult to resist!
1998.0004.1242 Silver Sifter upper surface
Salt Sifter, 1998.0004.1242, Winterthur Museum
Souvenir spoon, 1998.0004.1448, Winterthur Museum                                                                                       This was my absolute favorite spoon! The broomstick handle is adorable, and apparently the spoon was made in the late 19th-century. I think it is fascinating that even in the 1890s people were buying souvenir spoons!