Souvenir Spoons

Collecting souvenir spoons became a popular hobby for Americans in the late 1800s. Wealthy tourists visiting Europe brought home these mementos marked with the names of foreign cities and famous landmarks they had seen. 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.”

 

This souvenir spoon featured Nebraska’s second State Capitol in the bowl and an ear of corn on the handle. NSHS 3832-82 (left).

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, with the handle representing a split rail surmounted by a maul (representing A. Lincoln), with a grasshopper on the handle and Nebraska’s second State Capitol depicted within the bowl.

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 Nebraska State Historical Society website has a photograph of an Arbor Day spoon presented by Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton to Dawson Collins, his great uncle, in 1888.

 

This souvenir spoon, from jeweler Max Meyer & Brother of Omaha, included an Indian head on the handle. NSHS 11744-56 (right).

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.

— Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Publications

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