the history nebraska blog

Souvenir Spoons

Collecting souvenir spoons became a popular hobby for Americans in the late 1800s when this European fad swept the nation. Wealthy Americans visiting Europe brought home these mementos marked with the names of foreign cities and famous landmarks they had visited. The first souvenir spoon produced in the United States, in Washington, D.C., featured a profile of George Washington and was created to mark the centennial of his presidency. It was shortly followed by the Martha Washington spoon.

The Omaha Daily Bee on May 10, 1891, noted: “The season of summer traveling, so near at hand, will give a new impetus to the spoon fad. So great has been the demand the past season for souvenir spoons that all the larger cities of the United States, as well as every city and town in Europe, with but few exceptions, manufacture a spoon characteristic of the place or of some object of peculiar interest to the people of that place.

“While in many places the spoons are found in tea sizes only, a number of the more extensive shops furnish them in orange, sugar, coffee and tea sizes. The souvenir spoon of the District of Columbia comprises several designs. The George Washington has a medallion of the father of the country stamped in the bowl or on the top of the handle, the remainder of the spoon being perfectly plain. The Martha Washington is identical. The likenesses in both cases are said to be exact, and it is the favorite spoon with nearly all collectors.”

Nebraska cities were not slow to capitalize on the new fad. The Bee noted: “The Omaha spoon has only appeared in one style as yet, having engraved on the handle a picture of THE BEE building, but a number of jewelers are planning surprises for the fall trade.” George B. James Jr., in Souvenir Spoons, published in 1891, described a spoon from the city of Lincoln that incorporated both state and national symbols: “The handle represents a split rail surmounted by a maul and wedge [representing Lincoln’s namesake], . . . On the shank of the handle is an accurate full-relief reproduction of a grasshopper, formerly the terror of the West. Within the bowl in bas-relief, is displayed a view of the [Second State] Capitol, and altogether this spoon is as thoroughly emblematical of the capital of Nebraska as it is possible to be.”

Souvenir spoons at the height of their popularity were given as wedding and holiday gifts, displayed at art exhibitions, and even found their way into popular jokes. They were made to honor not only American cities and towns, but famous people and historical events. The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in 1893 in Chicago, gave the spoon collecting craze national exposure with a large number of commemorative spoons produced for the fair.

But like most fads, the spoon collecting craze did not last. By the outbreak of World War I the appetite for souvenir spoons had waned and by the end of the war it had almost disappeared. Today it is once again a niche hobby. Souvenir spoons at tourist attractions are a familiar sight, and hundreds of spoons change hands at auctions around the world.

 

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

Nebraska History Moments – For Further Reading

Do you have your copy of Nebraska History Moments, published by History Nebraska? This page is for readers who have the book and want to know more about its stories. ...

Nebraska History Index 1885-present

Searching Nebraska History Two ways to search past issues: Table of Contents (1885 to present) . Articles are listed issue by issue, with links to many that ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society RG2955.ph). In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Books Published by History Nebraska

In an effort to make quality stories from Nebraska's history more accessible, History Nebraska has partnered with University of Nebraska Press as a distributor of most ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

History Nebraska newsletter

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.
Nebraska Collections
History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.
Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.