Silver-lined Childhoods

ANTIQUES

April 11, 1993|By Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen

Silver cups, spoons, forks, porringers, plates and napkin rings long have been popular birth and christening gifts. Mass production in the second half of the 19th century made these silver keepsakes even more accessible. Then as now, those most popular have charming engraved animal scenes or nursery rhymes.

"In baby silver, cute translates into price," said dealer Gary Neiderkorn of Philadelphia, who will be exhibiting at a weekend antiques fair at the Springside School in Chestnut Hill, Pa., coinciding with the Philadelphia Antiques Show. Besides a rare group of antique silver diaper pins (great as jewelry), rattles, teething rings, combs and brushes (he handles repairs, too), he has an 1882 Tiffany silver baby cup boldly engraved with a scene of children in a marching band, priced at $1,200. Several late 19th- century cups by William B. Kerr & Co., a Newark, N.J., silversmith, engraved with animals or Mother Goose tales, cost $525 each. One of Mr. Neiderkorn's clients uses silver baby cups to serve punch. "They must be great ice breakers," he muses, "since she now owns 57."

Finding baby silver in good condition is a big problem since much was pounded onto high chair trays, flung to the floor or teethed upon. Also, families often don't dispose of these heirlooms as willingly as other antiques; engraving shows they're frequently passed from generation to generation.

Engraving on children's silver also reveals much about family relationships. Mr. Neiderkorn is offering, for $1,850, a hand-hammered art nouveau "Martele" child's plate by Gorham for Spaulding & Co. of Chicago, bearing a 1908 inscription: "To Little Rawson/From Grandmother Don't." She must have been quite a disciplinarian.

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