A SMALL COLLECTION OF ANTIQUE SILVER
AND OBJECTS OF VERTU

an article of Giorgio Busetto - www.silvercollection.it
for ASCAS - Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
a small collection of antique silver and objects of vertu
 
click on images to enlarge

SILVER FIGURAL TOOTHPICK HOLDERS
OF 19TH CENTURY

Anthropologists believe that early men picked their teeth with sticks cut to a sharp point.
Evidence of Stone Age toothpicks is indirect but compelling and the demonstration is on fossil teeth. Analysis of their marks has led to the consensus that they were made by heavy toothpick use by our early ancestors.
The grooves were especially common in the teeth of Neanderthals who lived in Europe and Asia, about 100,000 years ago. Similar markings have been found in the fossilized teeth of both American Indians and Australian Aborigines.
At this age people did not know how to repair teeth and only good care was the method to maintain their teeth, so they tried clean their teeth instinctively and a branch of wood was the beginning of toothpick.

Toothpicks were introduced into Japan about 528 along with Buddhism via China and Korea. In India twigs from Neem tree were used but as they did not grow in China use was made of the willow tree, a spicebush, a cedar, a peach tree, or a bamboo.
The clean custom of the toothpick migrated from the usual life of Buddhist monks very shortly to the nobles. Soon officers of the Court and Shinto priests began to imitate their clean custom.

Romans and Greeks were also avid oral hygiene enthusiasts.
The early Romans had their own dental-care preferences. Pliny the Younger of Rome (61-113 A.D.) proclaimed that using a vulture quill as a toothpick would cause halitosis, but using a porcupine quill was acceptable because it 'made the teeth firm'.
In fifteenth-century Europe, picking the teeth was widely accepted until philosophers began to issue conduct warnings. Rhodes said: 'Pick not thy teeth with thy knyfe, but take a stick, or some clean thyng, then doe you not offend'.
Personal silver, gold or ivory toothpiks were widely used in the Middle Age and often were included in traveling sets together with knife and spoon.

At the beginning of 19th century, with the introduction of disposable wooden toothpicks, the use of figural holders suitable to display the toothpicks on the table, spread in Continental Europe.
Usually these holders had a pierced base or a small container where sunburst toothpicks ornamentations were inserted.


toothpick holder with Napoleon, cannon and balls, Venice before 1810
silversmith Bartolomeo Valazza hallmark An excellent illustration of 'sunburst ornamentation' is displayed in this image of an Italian toothpick holder representing Napoleon standing in front of two cannons with toothpicks inserted into the cannon balls.
 
(Venice, before 1810, silversmith Bartolomeo Valazza)
porcupine toothpick holder:France 1830/1840hog
toothpick holder:Portugal Textured skin of hog and porcupine were particularly suitable for toothpick inserting. The rooting hog with curly ears on the left is Portuguese and the porcupine on a pedestal with four ball feet is French. The toothpick holders below are Italian, made in Venice by silversmith Luigi Merlo (on ther left) and Giovanni Fantini (on the right).

toothpick holder: Venice, silversmith Luigi Merlotoothpick holder: Venice, silversmith Giovanni Fantini


Other animals were used for figural toothpick holders

camel toothpick holder ram toothpick holder toothpick holder: lion holding a basket in its mouth

camel

curly-coated ram

lion holding a rectangular basket in its mouth
goat toothpick holder whippet toothpick holder crowing rooster toothpick holder
shaggy-haired goat >whippet crowing rooster


birds on a bath held by a kneeling cupid or drinking from a fountain
 

toothpick holder: kneeling cupid with bird bath toothpick holder: birds drinking from a fountain


 
toothpick holder: poodle about to jump through a ringtoothpick holder: poodle holding two baskets in his mouth

poodle about to jump through a ring held by a clown
 

or


holding two baskets in his mouth


or mythologic animals as wyvern and mermaid holding an anchor and buoy

toothpick holder: wyvern toothpick holder: marmaid holding an anchor and buoy


 

 

Toothpick holders representing the mythological Deity of the Sea Neptune/Poseidon (3) toothpick holder: Neptune (Poseidon)deity of the Sea toothpick holder: Neptune (Poseidon) deity of the Seatoothpick holder: Neptune (Poseidon) deity of the Sea toothpick holder:Amphitrite Goddess of the Sea and his wife, the Nereid Amphitrite, Goddess of the Sea, standing on pedestals and backed by shells

 

a set of 'putto' toothpick holders:

toothpick holder:bacchus on a barrel toothpick holder:putto holding a flower toothpick holder:putto leaning on a stick toothpick holder:putto holding a garland toothpick holder:putto holding a cup and frond
bacchus
on a barrel
holding
a flower
leaning on
a stick
holding a garland holding a cup and frond

 

a set of 'female figure' toothpick holders:

toothpick holder:bacchanal figure holding a garland toothpick holder: dancing girl holding a garland toothpick holder: running girl holding a bird
bacchanal
figure holding
a garland
dancing girl
holding
a garland
running girl
holding
a bird
toothpick holder: girl holding a bud and a basket toothpick holder: girl waving a frond toothpick holder: girl with a flower and a leaf
girl holding a bud and
a basket
girl waving a frond girl with a flower and a leaf

a set of 'male figure' toothpick holders:

toothpick holder:sailor standing near a barrel and anchor toothpick holder: chinamen holding a bud-form vase toothpick holder: shepherd with his dog toothpick holder: Mercury holding a caduceus
sailor standing near a barrel and anchor chinamen holding
a bud-form vase
shepherd with
his dog
Mercury holding
a caduceus

 
toothpick holder:Indian holding a garland toothpick holder:bard leaning against a tree-stump toothpick holder:youth with cape toothpick holder:shepherd holding a flute
Indian holding a garland bard leaning against a tree-stump youth with cape shepherd holding a flute

a set of 'others' figural toothpick holders:

toothpick holder: obelisk-form topped by pomegranate toothpick holder: lyre supporting a cup toothpick holder: obelisk-form topped by pomegranate toothpick holder: flower spray on octagonal base
lyre supporting a cup obelisk-form topped by pomegranate obelisk-form topped by pomegranate flower spray on octagonal base
All the toothpick holders in this selection belongs to 19th century 'Continental silver' production. They were made in Portugal (most), Italy (Venice and Turin), France, Spain and Austria
 

RECYCLING TOOTHPICK HOLDERS

In 19th century the toothpick holder was an essential part of the dining set.
When post-Victorian etiquette frowned on using toothpicks at the dining table the production of silver figural toothpick holders ceased and they became useful only for collection purposes.
Inside my collection of silver I've a pair of small items that I believe to be 'toothpick holders' (non-figural):

London (UK) 1904 silversmith Spencer & Co.

toothpick holder: Spencer & Co London 1904 toothpick holder: Spencer & Co London 1904 toothpick holder:Spencer & Co London 1904 toothpick holder: Spencer & Co London 1904 toothpick holder: hallmarks Spencer & Co London 1904


Edimburg (Scotland - UK) 1909 silversmith Hamilton & Inches

toothpick holder: Hamilton & Inches Edimburgh 1909 toothpick holder: Hamilton & Inches Edimburgh 1909 toothpick holder: Hamilton & Inches Edimburgh 1909 toothpick holder: Hamilton & Inches Edimburgh 1909 toothpick holder: hallmarks Hamilton & Inches Edimburgh 1909

Both items have a shape inspired to the Celtic taste referable to the School of Glasgow and the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh but the first (made five years earlier) has a fluted edge reminiscent of Art Nouveau style.
For these two silver objects I've discovered a practical use that their makers, about 100 ago, could not have foreseen: they are two excellent container for my telephones !!

Giorgio Busetto - 2004 -
www.silvercollection.it
this article is published on website