Much Ado About Flatware

Spoons, mid 19th Century
Duhme & Co.; Cincinnati, Ohio, United States of America
Coin silver; Various dimensions
19939, 19940, 19951, 19955
Gift of Ms. Sarah Jane Brittenham Estate
In honor of President’s Day, we present to you a set of silver spoons used during the Van Buren administration in the mid-19th Century. One may not automatically think flatware when they think of President’s Day, but back in 1837, Van Buren’s household paraphernalia caused quite the controversy nationwide, most explicitly—his spoon collection.

The “Gold Spoon Oration,” or “The Regal Splendor of the President’s Palace,” delivered and written by Charles Ogle in 1840, was a vehement speech castigating President Van Buren’s lifestyle of comfort while the rest of the nation suffered economically during the aftermath of the Panic of 1837. “In my opinion, it is time the people of the United States should know that their money goes to buy for their plain hard-handed democratic President, knives, forks, and spoons of gold, that he may dine in the style of the monarchs of Europe,” preached Ogle, which won many favors and laughs amongst the crowds who attended at the time.

Van Buren undeniably was a readily available scapegoat for the Panic of 1837; “panics” are what we would now call an economic depression, or as we have more recently experienced, a recession. The truth of the matter was that the economic downturn was in part due to a residual symptom of Andrew Jackson’s policies enacted during his presidency, as well as the ups and downs of the unstable market at the time. Most importantly, the banks were offering easy credit while benefiting from little or no central regulation.

The Whig party chose to scapegoat and pinpoint one person, that being President Van Buren. Due to his stoic and reserved nature at social functions, many mistakenly thought him to be snobbish.  He also had an appreciation for the finer things, as he followed suit during his residency at the White House, with lavish parties, nicely tailored clothes, and beautiful furniture pieces.

Whatever one’s insight may be on this infamous speech, the spoons are solid coin silver, and fiddle pattern with pointed tips—not a common design for contemporary flatware. These are great examples of Post-Revolutionary American Design.
The spoons were manufactured by Duhme & Co. Patterns, which was based in Cincinnati, Ohio during the middle to late 19th Century. They were one of the largest, if not the largest silver firms in the country. This firm was a serious competitor of Tiffany & Company. Duhme & Co. was founded by two German-born gentlemen, Herman G. Duhme and his brother John, as a fancy goods store in the mid-1800s. Cincinnati led the nation as the third largest producer of silver jewelry in the country. These spoons were made of coin silver at this point in time, when silver coins were composed of ninety percent silver. “T.C. Funcke” is inscribed on each of the spoons, though we could not trace the background of this person. 

Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. Information subject to change upon further research.

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Comments 1

Guest - Anonymous on Thursday, 16 February 2017 16:53

Great post- I'll be on the lookout for their mark when I'm treasure hunting!Cheers!

Great post- I'll be on the lookout for their mark when I'm treasure hunting!Cheers!
Wednesday, 23 September 2020

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