Over time, I have learned much about my family history that is either supportive or contradicting of what they have told me. This last weekend, again, we hashed some family history and sorted out some of the past- through the stuff of ages.
A historical note that I am certain of is- My Grandmother Katie (Katherine) Morrison, Dlugos, Pratt (there are some others but they didn't stick) liked to go to estate sales. It is at these sales that she purchased her family history. She would buy items then tell a story about how they were a part of the family valuables handed down through inheritance. She would embellish about the wealthy uncle or aunt many times removed and far distant in location and her relationship to this wealth. After telling the story many times, it became the truth to all who would wonder or have contact with her. After all, there was no real way to check it out. I am certain of this because I attended several estate auctions with her and my mother.
So this last weekend, my mom surrendered up the contents of her China Hutch and cabinet. The sacred shrine of all the stuff of ages- china, antique pieces, crystal, silver and miscellany. The old and very old was mixed with the newer. The valuable was mixed with the trash. There was no rhyme or reason to the collection, just volume. But some of it was more familial than others. I had her tell me the story of each piece as she remembered it. Some had a vague sense that it came from old family, but some of it had a specific story attached to it. Some of the stories I had heard before and knew they were estate sale items. It is difficult to keep quiet in the situation, but I managed.
In sorting through the items, I made separate piles of really not very valuable stuff, valuable but not really family heirlooms, and valuable family heirlooms. The ones with real history are more meaningful to me than the mere stuff collected for appearance.
I do not have much space for things to show off. Stuff must have purpose and usefulness. Lead Crystal is not terribly useful because of the lead that leaches into foods and drinks. But it is really shiny and heavy. Sometimes I am won over by the sparkle of things.
So this brings us to the Spoon issue. In an old anti-tarnish bag, was a collection of "collector" spoons. Some were silver plated and some were sterling. No story came with it. No family member name was attached to it. Just a bag of old spoons. Some parent up the line had visited a few places and purchased a silver spoon to commemorate the visit or possibly had had it purchased for them as a gift. The collection was small and generally confined to the United States. My family was not much into international experience. We have Chicago, St.Louis Mo., St. Charles Mo., Mr. Rainier in Seattle, Wa., and the Brooklyn Bridge New York. These were in Sterling silver. There is also an Ammish looking decoration on one spoon that has European silver marks on the bowl. The collection of silver plated spoons is small and mostly not interesting at all, like old baby items and a couple of location or memorial types. These are in really bad shape with most of the silver rubbed off or tarnished beyond hope.
These are actually interesting to me. It is possible that my grandmother didn't buy them and that they were in fact handed down from a family member who was into collecting spoons. The Spoon Craze generally ended around World War 1 with little revivals mostly of cheap silver plate and stainless steel types, but the spoons from this bag are very ornate and heavy.
So what do you do with a silver spoon. I did some research. If a person had a silver spoon, then they were usually a land holder and a free person as opposed to a slave or an indentured servant. I could carry it with me as proof of my status. Also, a silver spoon was a sign of wealth, especially is a very poor environment. You can use a silver spoon to test of arsenic poison in your food. Very handy as the silver will tarnish in the presence of sulfur compounds. And, lastly, you can melt them down for the silver content. Generally, according to the ebay sales I viewed, they are not worth much and no one is really collecting spoons anymore. There are spoons for sale, page after page, and pretty cheap by the dozen. That would suggest the " sign of wealth" thing won't hold much water now, about a teaspoon full. So, I have to confess to being won over by the sparkly and the ornate decorations. The silver plate stuff will have to go , but the sterling can stay and if all else fails, I can have it melted down into a giant silver blob.
And thus, stuff is passed from one generation to the next. I know nothing of my family who originally owned it. I know nothing of the travels, the adventures, the struggles. Because my family purchased history and lied about themselves, nothing has real meaning as an heirloom. But sometimes, curiosity and sparkly are enough to make the next shrine open up and hold it for another generation.