A563

Thomas Fletcher Antique 11oz Silver Asparagus Tongs, Philadelphia, c. 1830


This is an exceedingly rare form by one of America's leading silver makers and most important silversmiths at the time. The Fiddle shaped handles are completely unadorned except for a wonderfully script style engraved 'CSP' monogram at the elbow.

A shaped band encircles the neck and guides the blades. It is attached using a small screw. The long, oval blades are flat with the upper blade having a downturned lip at the front to hold the food in place. Two various sized circular punches are used to decorate the blades and act as strainers.

Thomas Fletcher, in partnership with Sidney Gardiner and by himself after 1827, ran the most important silversmithy of the young republic, receiving commissions to make the most significant presentation silver of the day, including: The Dewitt Clinton Urns (Erie Canal, now at the Met), The George Armistead Punch Service (Commander at Fort McHenry, now at the Smithsonian), The Isaac Hull Urn (Commander of the Constitution, now in the Naval Historical Foundation's collection), etc.. Some of the best and most famous American silver in permanent museum collections was made by Thomas Fletcher or Fletcher & Gardiner.

As noted by Stuart P. Feld in Boston in the Age of Neo-Classicism 1810-1840: "No silversmith working in America during the late Federal period exceeded either the ambition or the quality of the Philadelphia partnership of Thomas Fletcher (1787-1846) and Sidney Gardiner (1785-1827), and Thomas Fletcher alone after Gardiner's early death." (p. 77)

Even rarer than the form are the marks on these tongs. Thomas Fletcher wholesaled many of his pieces. This is the only known example of Thomas Fletcher silver marked '11 OZ.', the popular Baltimore silver standard, indicating it was sold in Baltimore.

From 1814-30, Baltimore law required that all silver be of sterling standard (.925) and that it be assayed (tested). As soon as the law was revised in 1830 to allow lower grade silver, Baltimore retailers started ordering less expensive coin (.900) silver and 11oz (.917) silver from Fletcher.(1)

This rare coin silver server is stamped on the back 'TF' along with a profile head, an eagle and a 'P'(for Philadelphia). This part of the mark is pictured in Silversmiths to the Nation Thomas Fletcher & Sidney Gardiner: 1808-42 by Donald Fennimore and Ann Wagner, fig 10, p. 268. We have never seen the '11 OZ' and 'FINE' marks used in conjunction with Thomas Fletcher's mark.

These magnificent tongs measures 10.75 inches long, weigh 8.15 troy ounces and are in good/ excellent antique condition.

Endnote:

  1. See a letter dated April 21, 1831 from Baltimore merchants R & A Campbell ordering in 'dollar' (coin) silver 15 dozen teaspoons and 5 dozen 'large sized forks & 2 do[zen] small sized, to be made of Silver 11oz fine', in the Thomas Fletcher correspondence at Winterthur Museum's Library.
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