Intriguing Old Spoon

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My friend, Scott, sent me this old spoon to check out.  An antique dealer in Pittsburgh told him that he comes across a lot of these spoons in the area.  He knew nothing beyond that.  Could it be a form common to a particular region or even family?  I also have some questions about the possible technique used in making it.  I thought I’d display some photos here to see if anyone has any suggestions or knowledge to share.

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I guess the thing that has Scott and I scratching our heads the most is the handle.  The upper surface seems to indicate that it was made from straight-grained wood, but the underside has the appearance of figured wood.  Could the handle have been bent over a hot pipe, resulting in the compressed and scorched look of the underside?

Scott also pointed out that the arrangement of stopped chamfers on the handle may have facilitated strapping the spoon under a belt.

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I don’t know what the wood species is, but the dark streaks are raised and the lighter areas are low.

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The one side of the bowl is pretty rotten.  Maybe it sat in water or on the ground for a long time.  I’ll just pop a few more photos below.  If you have any thoughts about this spoon, I’d love to hear them.

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23 Responses to Intriguing Old Spoon

  1. Lee Hockman says:

    This may be too simplistic, but it looks to me like it was in a fire.

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  2. WILLIAM BUDD says:

    Looks like walnut. Looks quarter sawn. I have never steam bent walnut.

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    • Dave Fisher says:

      Thanks. In person, it’s evident that the wood is more dense and has a tighter grain than walnut. I think you’re right about the blank being originally quarter sawn or radially split.

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  3. francedozois says:

    well a little detective work–what fun–

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pete Hobbie says:

    Definitely quarter sawn. Though if the theory of bending the handle over a hot pipe proved out I suppose flat sawn could work just as well. Looks like a challenge I’ll have to take on just to see what happens. Be well.
    Pete

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Could be a spoon made from a horn. Interior and exterior textures are different. Plus it would help explain the ripples from being bent. Interested to see what others come up with! Thanks for posting.

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  6. Eric Goodson says:

    Dave, such a cool spoon. Radial blank, but not entirely clear wood? Are those knots/highly figured swirled grain on the underside of the bowl? If so, would someone be likely to take the trouble to steam bend wood that had obvious knots or defects in it? Maybe. What a mystery.

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  7. Dave Fisher says:

    That’s right Eric. A couple small tight knots with fibers swirling around them on the underside of the bowl.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. John Fielding says:

    Hi Dave, I’m thinking this could be an Old World wood, perhaps olive. The tight grain and striated coloring fit, and olive is still used in making spoons. Many Italians in the Pittsburgh area?
    Just a thought… thanks for the puzzle!

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  9. Dave Fisher says:

    Hmmm…I think olive wood is indeed a possibility, John. Thanks. The wood does seem quite dense like olive. Many Italians did immigrate to the Pittsburgh area, along with many others seeking jobs in the steel mills. I touched on that in this post: https://davidffisherblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/if-yinz-are-ever-in-pittsburgh/

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  10. Scott Kinsey says:

    The underside of the handle appears to have fairly deep scoring from side to side, the lines of which are perhaps softened and distorted over time.. and water immersion. Could those cuts have been made to facilitate bending?
    A very beautiful form.

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  11. Dave Fisher says:

    That’s a sensible theory, Scott. But the lines don’t seem to be straight enough to indicate cutting or scoring across the grain. They seem to be more random and the result of pressure on the fibers. I can’t rule it out though. Regardless, you may have hit upon an interesting technique idea.

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  12. It definitely looks bent. What appears to be figure on the underside of the handle could just be compression from bending.

    Could both the handle and bowl be bent? Take a flat piece of quartersaw stock, such as for a Shaker oval box, and compress it between two halves of a form, to create this shape? No carving involved?

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    • Dave Fisher says:

      Maybe. There would still be carving after the bending. I know folks use the steam bending with the two-sided form, but I’ve not seen it with this tight of a bend, but maybe if the blank is thin enough.

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  13. Bill hansen says:

    Looks like a spalted maple, had some a while back and very similar to this.

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  14. WILLIAM BUDD says:

    David, thank you for this. A really great discussion!

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  15. Dave Fisher says:

    Thanks very much for everyone’s input. Fantastic to hear all of the ideas. Personally, I’m leaning toward the idea that the marks on the bottom of the handle coming from compression during bending, however the bending was done. I’ve also heard from a couple folks through email that have seen many spoons in museums and collections over the years. They feel the spoon is at least influenced by Norwegian design.

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  16. Jim Kirchoff says:

    Dave,

    I would suggest you call the Forest Products Lab in Madison, WI. This is part of the Forest Service which is part of the USDA. Michael (Mike) Wiemann is their botanist and he can be contacted at 608.231.9258. His email is michael.wiemann@usda.gov. He will be able to ID the spoon wood, but I am almost certain he will want to see it and inspect it.

    Call me if you have questions. I am at 608.788.9988. This guy knows his stuff!

    Jim Kirchoff Stoddard, Wisc

    On Fri, Feb 14, 2020 at 5:30 PM David Fisher, Carving Explorations wrote:

    > Dave Fisher posted: ” My friend, Scott, sent me this old spoon to check > out. An antique dealer in Pittsburgh told him that he comes across a lot > of these spoons in the area. He knew nothing beyond that. Could it be a > form common to a particular region or even family? I a” >

    Like

  17. Dave Fisher says:

    Thanks very much, Jim. What a resource! I’ll be sure to let Scott know about the possibility.

    Like

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