AN EXTREMELY RARE 'GEDACHTENIS LEPEL EN VORK', COMMEMORATIVE SPOON AND FORK
Silver apparently unmarked, possibly Dutch colonial, New Amsterdam (New York), circa 1672
The unusual triangular handles are decorated with zoomorphic ornaments in the “kwab-stijl”, the Auricular style, made popular in the Netherlands by Paulus van Vianen in the first half of the 17th century, the spoon engraved to the back of the bowl “SARA LEWES. Obijt 7 Iunij 1672” and the fork engraved to the back of the centre prong “SARA LEWES Ob. 7 Iunij 1672.”
L. 16.5 cm
Weight spoon: 43 grams
Weight fork: 34 grams
To commemorate a deceased relative in silver was a Dutch tradition in the 17th and 18th century. In the Dutch East Indies, particularly in Jakarta (Batavia), commemorative salvers were made in large quantities and still many survived although undoubtedly most have been melted down in the course of time. Sometimes salvers made in Holland were later engraved in Batavia. Commemorative spoons are much rarer (for an example made in Batavia 1694, in memory of Margareta van Hoorn, see Uit Verre Streken, March 2013, item 3).
The first time the present spoon and fork were described was by Stephan Welz in Cape Silver… , A.A. Balkema Rotterdam 1976, pg. 90-91. Stephan Welz assumed the set was made in the Cape, but that seems to be very unlikely. No “kwab-stijl” decorations are known in Cape silver because all silversmiths in the Cape were of German or English origin, Cape silver spoons are of Hanoverian or Old English style. Besides, no Cape silver spoons are known before the early 18th century.
The second mention of the set is by Kevin Brown, who bought the set in Cape Town, in A 1672 Dutch Memento Mori Spoon and Fork Set, in Silver Magazine, September/October 2008, pg. 20-24. Kevin Brown argues that the set is the earliest known New York silver. In two further articles (A Dutch Memento Mori Spoon & Fork set, 1672. From New York? The Finial, Journal of the Silver Spoon Club of Great Britain. December 2011, Vol. 22, pg. 5-10 and Alena Buis and Kevin Brown Triffling Things? The Sara Lewes Memorial Lepel and Vork. Dutch Crossing, Vol. 36, No. 6, November 2012) Kevin Brown substantiates his supposition that the set was made in New York.
The “Kwab-stijl” was very popular in Holland and Friesland and many spoons with zoomorphic finials were made there in the first half of the 17th century. Dutch silver spoons are practically always marked. In New York one other spoon in the “Kwab-stijl” is known, made and marked by Cornelius Van Der Burch (New Amsterdam 1653 – New York 1699), commissioned for the funeral in New York of Henricus, son of Pieter and Hester Deursen in 1692 (collection of Yale University Art Gallery). The form of this spoon is almost identical to the present spoon.
Sara Lieuwes was born in Leeuwarden, Friesland in 1643, the younger sister of Sytske Lieuwes (1642). Sytske married Gerrit de Wees in 1662 and in 1663 they moved to New York where Sytske appears in the records of the Dutch Reformed Church spelt as “Lievens”. The Frisian name of “Lieuwes” apparently was not well understood by the church recorder and transformed into the common Dutch/Amsterdam name of “Lievens”.
In the same way in the English colony New York, in 1672 Lieuwes may have been anglicised into Lewes. There are no records of Sara’s presence in New York. So presumably Sytske and Gerrit had the set made in New York (by Cornelius Van Der Burch?) as a memorial to Sara Lieuwes death in 1672 in Leeuwarden, as every few months post would arrive from the Netherlands.
The other possibility is that Sytske and Gerrit had the set already with them when they moved to New York and only in 1672 engraved there. However, this seems unlikely, since the set shows no wear. Memorial spoons were made to commemorate a deceased loved one, not for practical use.
In addition to the set being the oldest memorial silver, this would make the fork the oldest known silver fork made in New York.
However, we are aware of the forgeries of early American silver and are now conducting research together with the Rijksmuseum Science and Restoration Lab to find out more about the age and authenticity of the set.