Asparagus tongs (one of a pair)


Bailey & Co.

c. 1865–1868
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General Description

As a result of the desire for order and hierarchy in an increasingly chaotic, industrialized society, 19th-century Americans were extraordinarily fastidious about the consumption of food. This dynamic, coupled with the introduction of new foods into the American diet, prompted the development of new, specialized flatware forms and accompanying rules of etiquette. The ability to execute properly the maneuvers required of such tools was a sign of elevated economic and social status.

This pair of tongs (1991.13.1 and 1991.13.2), produced by the Philadelphia firm of Bailey & Co., was used not for serving, but for eating asparagus, which first appeared with frequency in the 1850s. Each guest at a formal dinner would be provided tongs with which to pick up spears of asparagus without soiling his or her gloves.

Adapted from

Charles L. Venable, Silver in America, 1840-1940: A Century of Splendor (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art; New York, New York; Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994), 136-138, 339.

Web Resources

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Read more about Nineteenth-Century American Silver.