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By Stewart Emmens on

The World Of… Spoons!

Back in January, I posted about some unusual variations of one of our favourite pieces of cutlery – the fork. I guess it was inevitable that I’d be tempted to move on, delving further into obscure corners of our collections. 

While trying to avoid ‘me and my spoon’ type territory, let’s take a random peek into… the world of spoons.

Soapstone spoon
Spoon from Ancient Egypt (Science Museum, Science & Society)

Made of soapstone, this small spoon is in the form of a diving girl sporting either a typical Ancient Egyptian braided hairstyle or a short headdress. It could date from as early as 1575 BCE. Described as an ointment spoon, it was possibly used for scooping up and measuring out drugs or cosmetics.        

Bronze spoons
Bronze 'gold-takers' spoons (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Precious materials were also carried by these spoons. Made of bronze, they were used alongside an ancient set of measuring scales, dating from as early as the 1400s. They were carried by local Ashanti gold traders, in Ghana – formerly known by its appropriate colonial name, The Gold Coast.

Spoon handle
One of the engraved silver spoon handles (Science Museum)

My third example is a pair of silver spoons, notable for their inscriptions rather than their appearance. Made in London in 1740, they were engraved the following year to commemorate two individuals, perhaps siblings, known only by their initials ‘G M’ and ‘I M’ who had survived smallpox. They were presented by the similarly cryptic ‘E P’. 

Smallpox was a deadly disease. Pre-dating Edward Jenner’s vaccine by several decades, these grateful survivors were most likely left with numerous – and permanent – reminders of their near miss.

Polio vaccine poster
Vaccination awareness poster, c1960s (Science Museum, Science & Society)

Fortunately, another once widespread disease polio, looks like it will soon join smallpox in being eradicated through human intervention. This leads to my final spoon, which is a bit of a cheat.  Today, children are likely to have their polio vaccine squeezed directly into their mouths from a plastic vial or via an injection. But, I remember a far more pleasant experience. One day at school, they gave us all a sugar cube. 

Because as Mary Poppins continues to tell us, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down… in a most delightful way”.

2 comments on “The World Of… Spoons!

  1. I too remember the treat, and I even remember regularly seeing those posters around Borough Green, Kent, where I spent some of my childhood.

  2. Yes, the sugar lump seems to have left an abiding memory with many people. However, it’s extremely unlikely that British infants today will even remember their combined DTaP/IPV(polio)/Hib injection, let alone with any fondness!

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