Sucket Fork (one of a pair)
William Rouse (American, born in the Netherlands or western Germany, 1639–1704 or 1705)
Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts
2.5 x 15.3 cm (1 x 6 in.)
Medium or Technique
Manning House (Gallery LG36)
This sucket fork has a flat stem, shaped in reverse curves, terminating at one end in a bowl, at the other in a flat, two-tined fork with sprocket-like protrusions near handle. The bowl is ounded with v-drop on back.
The sucket fork was an extremely rare form of late-seventeenth-century American silver. A practical utensil with English origins, it had a tined fork at one end and the bowl of a spoon on the other. Such forks were designed to eat sucket (or succade), fruits preserved in heavy syrup. The consumption of these sweet luxuries was made famous by Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603), who held banquet pavilions filled with sucket, raisins, figs, currants, and comfits of sugared seeds, nuts, and fruits. An inventory of the jewelhouse of Henry VII (1457 – 1509) included “Item one spone wt suckett fork at thend of silver and gilt.” By the late seventeenth century, when the second generation of settlers had become established in the New World, maturing orchards and vineyards offered an abundance of materials to satisfy the sweet tooth, and a variety of so-called sweetmeats were produced along with the proper tableware to display and consume them.
The fashion for sweetmeats in this country continued through the early nineteenth century, but the use of the sucket fork seems to have ended in the early decades of the eighteenth, when smaller knives, forks, and spoons came into use. At least one set of six was observed with antiquarian interest by Salem diarist William Bentley (1759 – 1819), who, while visiting the “Widow Hawthorne” in 1790, saw “1/2 dozen Sweetmeet Silver Spoons, with Round Ladle Bowls, twisted Shafts, & two pronged forks on the Handle.”
That sucket forks may have persisted in some areas has been demonstrated by Louise Belden, who noted they were imported as late as 1743, when “silver spoon-handled forks imported from London” were advertised in the South Carolina Gazette. Today less than twenty American-made examples of this unusual form are known.
Although the English sucket fork has traditionally been considered an influence on the colonial form, there may have been a Dutch precedent as well. With the exception of those by John Coney, the majority of surviving sucket forks were made by an early generation of silversmiths of Dutch or Continental heritage, including Jesse Kip (1660 – 1722), Bartholomew Le Roux (1663 – 1713), Johannis Nys (1671 – 1734), and Cornelius Kierstede (1674 – 1757). Some of these silversmiths were patronized by the van Rensselaer and Schuyler families, also of Dutch extraction. Boston silversmith William Rouse, the maker of the Museum’s pair, was the oldest. Born in 1639 in the Duchy of Cleves, which bordered the Netherlands, Rouse received his training abroad before arriving in Boston in the late 1660s.
The Rouse sucket forks most closely resemble those made by Coney, an unidentified maker (private collection), and Johannis Nys. All are lightweight and have twisted handles and a small egg-shaped bowl. The Rouse set differs in its flat handles with cyma-curve decoration cut in profile. John and Lydia (Turell) Foster, for whom Rouse made these sucket forks, also ordered a covered skillet, a handsomely engraved patch box, and a small cup with handle. The descent of the forks in the matrilineal line is a remarkable demonstration of preservation and survival across eight generations.
This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.
"F / I L" engraved in shaded roman capitals on back of bowl.
"WR" in an oval, twice on the back of the handle, and once on the back of the bowl.
Col. John (1644 – 1710) and Lydia (Turell) Foster (1660 – 1689), m. 1677; to their daughter Lydia Foster (1686 – 1748) and her husband, Edward Hutchinson (1678 – 1752), m. 1706; to Elizabeth Hutchinson (1731 – 1793) and Rev. Nathaniel Robbins (1726 – 1795), m. 1757; to their son Edward Hutchinson Robbins (1758 – 1829) and Elizabeth Murray (1756 – 1837), m. 1785; to their daughter Mary Robbins (1794 – 1879) and Joseph Warren Revere (1777 – 1868), m. 1821; to Jane Minot Revere (1834 – 1910) and Dr. John Phillips Reynolds (1825 – 1909), m. 1859; to Theresa Reynolds (1874 – 1972) and her husband, Julian Lowell Coolidge (1873 – 1954), m. 1901; to John Phillips Coolidge (1913 – 1995) and Mary Elizabeth Welch (b. 1912), m. 1935; 1996, gift of Mr and Mrs Coolidge to the MFA. (Accession date: June 26, 1996)
Gift of John and Mary Coolidge