The Saints’ Rest Spoon

The two trenches dug at the rescue project CAP conducted at Saint’s Rest (1856-1876) this summer were very different in terms of artifacts found. The first trench, located inside of the building, yielded many nails, bits of metal, and other hardware like door knobs and hinges. The second trench started out as a shovel test pit and when a brick formation was found, the pit was expanded and then turned into a trench that resulted in finding one of Saint’s Rest’s chimneys. That trench yielded many “everyday” cultural artifacts such as ceramic (whiteware/stoneware/etc.) sherds, bottle and window glass, and pipe pieces, among others.

Half of the spoon recovered from Saints Rest, minutes later we'd find the handle of it
Half of the spoon recovered from Saints Rest, minutes later we’d find the handle of it

One of the more interesting artifacts to some out of the second trench was a complete spoon, found in two pieces. I was actually the one to dig the shovel test pit that later turned into the second trench. I found the spoon’s head underneath a loose brick in the test pit, and found the handle half when the pit was expanded to get a better look at the brick formation we were seeing.

The spoon is plain and undecorated, most likely made of copper, and is definitely a teaspoon. Its appearance suggests that it was mass produced as an affordable cutlery option. The flat part at the end of the handle curves downward and the spoon’s head is shaped like modern teaspoons, egg-shaped and narrower at the point than at the base. Both attributes are characteristic of the modern spoon, which came into use after 1760. The teaspoon being present in a student dormitory and in such a plain and undecorated state is the result of capitalism.

The teaspoon as a utensil made its debut in the second half of the 17th century, when the English began adding milk to their tea and was used to mix the tea, milk, and sugar together. At that point in time, it was strictly a wealthy individual’s utensil and kept separate from the main dinnerware. The fact that teaspoons are now found in cutlery drawers around the world is a unique phenomenon. Other utensils associated with the English tea tradition such as the tea tongs or tea strainer aren’t nearly as widespread as the teaspoon is, nor have utensils from other tea traditions such as the Japanese one. The teaspoon’s success came when it was adopted by coffee drinkers, a substance that was far more common among lower classes than tea. As the teaspoon became more widespread as a household utensil, stepping down from its lofty perch in the homes of England’s elite, it became a universal “go-to” utensil for meals. It answered a need for a spoon smaller than the English tablespoon or dessertspoon, but larger than the French coffee spoon, one that fit the average human mouth rather nicely. By the mid-19th century, the teaspoon was a staple element of flatware in the United States.

The teaspoon’s adventure from an example of English wealth, to nearly every dining set in the United States adds a rich history to its context in Saint’s Rest, most likely part of a student’s belongings. Our research on this artifact, what it was, who it might have belonged to, how it was made, and why it was there shed light on an interesting history of the modern teaspoon, and the reason it became so widespread.


Author: Josh Schnell

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