Q: I inherited this very heavy, large silver spoon from my grandmother. It has the inscription, “Rochambeau to Lt. Gov Jabez Bowen, Rhode Island 1780,” engraved on the back and a crest on the front of the handle. I don’t know where or how she would have acquired it. Any information will be helpful.
During the American Revolution, the French were sympathetic to the colonists but mostly wanted to defeat the British. In 1780, the French sent Count de Rochambeau and a large army to Newport to support General Washington. They waited in Newport for a year for French naval support (which never arrived) before heading south to meet Washington in White Plains, NY.
In 1781 they defeated the British at the battle of Yorktown, Va. Newport had been previously occupied by the British so when the French arrived, they got a warm welcome. Rochambeau appreciated the hospitality and as a gift, took from his personal camp equipment a large spoon which he presented to Jabez Bowen, the deputy governor of Rhode Island and his family.
The spoon is engraved with the Rochambeau family crest. At some point, the family had the inscription, “Rochambeau to Lt. Gov. Jabez Bowen, Rhode Island 1780,” added to the back of the spoon. This spoon was kept in the Bowen family until 1964, when it was donated to the Newport Historical Society.
Now the second part of the answer. In the 1890s and early 20th century, America developed an insatiable desire for souvenir spoons. The earliest souvenir spoon known is a tablespoon made by Gorham & Co. in 1852 for the Rhode Island State Fair.
The state fairs were an important venue for Gorham to show its work, and sales skyrocketed. Before long, souvenir spoons were being made for every state and to commemorate important places, people and events.
Gorham’s spoons were made in sterling or silverplate. More were produced in silverplate due to affordability, but people also loved to build a collection. There are many souvenir spoon clubs that have great websites devoted to souvenir spoons.
The beautiful craftsmanship and design of these original souvenir spoons make them still desirable for collectors. Gorham reproduced the Bowen spoon in 1969, making hundreds all in silverplate. Your spoon is worth around $75 and it has a great story that goes with it.
Karen Waterman is an antique furniture and decorative arts appraiser in the East Bay area and will answer as many questions about your own “hidden treasures” as possible. By sending a letter or e-mail with a question, you give full permission for use in the column. Names, addresses or e-mail will not be published and photos will be returned if requested. Send e-mails (digital photos are encouraged) to [email protected] Send snail mail to East Bay Newspapers, Att. Karen Waterman, P.O. Box 90, Bristol, RI 02809.