An Apostle spoon is a spoon, usually crafted out of silver, which features an image of an apostle as the termination of the handle. These spoons can be dated precisely and are among the earliest surviving examples of English silver. The twelve apostles that feature on these spoons each possess their own distinctive emblem, and a complete set is representative of the Last Supper of Christ in their company. The below list matches the Apostle to the attribute that defines them.


  1. The Master (Jesus): a cross and orb

  2. St. Peter: a sword or a key

  3. St. Andrew: a cross

  4. St. James the Greater: a pilgrim’s staff

  5. St. James the Lesser: a fuller’s bat

  6. St. John: the cup of sorrow

  7. St. Philip: a staff

  8. St. Bartholomew: a knife

  9. St. Thomas: a spar

  10. St. Matthew: an axe

  11. St. Jude: a carpenter’s set square

  12. St. Simon: a long saw

  13. Judas: a bag of money


Apostle spoon MET 100815

Despite their seemingly sacred religious connotations, apostle spoons initially originated in early-fifteenth century Europe as spoons used at the table. Complete sets of spoons from this period, with the same maker and date, are incredibly rare. No complete sets of thirteen are known to remain from before the 16th century.


Popularity


The apostle spoon became a popular baptismal present for godchildren in countries such as England and Germany. Supposedly, the phrase ‘born with silver spoon in one’s mouth’ originates from this custom. This continued in some communities until the mid-twentieth century, and spoons were also occasionally presented to a newly married couple as a wedding gift. In 1516, ‘Amy Brent’ bequeathed ‘XIII sylver spones of J’ hu and the XII Apostells’ in her will- the first recorded example of this. Johnson, Middleton, Beaumont and Fletcher are among multiple dramatists who allude to Apostle Spoons in their work during this period. Apostle spoons are also referenced in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, as the King jokes with his advisor Cranmer, saying ‘Come, come, my lord, you’d spare your spoons’.


Downfall


The popularity of apostle spoons peaked pre-reformation, when belief in the services of a patron saint was still strong. But ‘heathens’ aren’t solely to blame for the declining popularity of the Apostle spoon. During the reformation period (more information available on this page), the social belief of iconoclasm was enforced. Here, the removal of religious images was encouraged, as these were said to undermine the Decalogue’s prohibition of idolising sculpted images of God. Despite this, some spoons managed to survive being melted due to their status as ‘family heirlooms’.


More recent examples of the apostle spoon date back to the Victorian period, where the design was revived and miniaturised for use as a coffee spoon. The turn of the 19th and 20th centuries also brought with them a new design; large pairs of apostle spoons, presented in fitted boxes and often gifted as commemoration of a particularly significant religious event.


Written by

Alice Wilson

After completing a degree in English Literature in 2018 Alice joined the AC Silver as a Digital Assistant. Alice is responsible for keeping our social media accounts fun and fresh for you all. In addition she will also entertain you on our blog with some creative posts.