Any nutmeg grater is scarce. Early American ones are exceptionally hard to find. The firm of Samuel Kirk made this one in Baltimore in the 1830's in the classical federal style.
Of rectangular form with canted corners, it is adorned with elegant bright cut and wheel engraving depicting classical drapes and swags along the edge of the top.
Once the lid is open, the original steel grating surface is exposed. The grater is fitted into a silver collar which is hinged to the body of the box on the side. Fully open, one can see the space meant to hold the nutmeg nut.
Nutmeg has always been an expensive spice, hence the creation of a special and expensive box to hold it. Not only is it pleasantly fragrant, folklore attributed medicinal qualities to it as far back as the plague. From the 16th century, nutmeg was a popular spice to add to food and drink. Nutmeg boxes such as this were made during the 1760-1840 period when it was fashionable to add it to toddies, punch and other warm alcoholic beverages.
These marks were used by Kirk from 1830-46. Although double-struck, the 'S.K' mark is quite clear while the 11/12 quality mark is still discernible. (See Silver in Maryland and Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Maryland Silver in the Collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art, both by Jennifer Goldsborough, for more information on these marks.)
As utilitarian objects associated with drinking, nutmeg graters were used and abused. Rare surviving examples are usually found in substandard condition. This example is in excellent condition, with only a few light scratches to show for 170 years (visible in the first picture). It is beautifully monogrammed 'F' in a foliate script style on the lid, and measures 1.625 inches wide, 1.125 inches deep and 1 inch high.