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A Spoon That Got Around . . .


An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia

Silver Spoon

Silver Spoon. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 2005.235.A)

This silver serving spoon has been on view in The Story of Virginia exhibition for the last five years. The title of the label caught my eye one day, “A Spoon That Got Around,” and now the silver spoon is about to “get around” some more. Here is the label text for this silver spoon, to give you an idea of its history:

Silver Spoon, detail, engraved with crest

Silver Spoon, detail, engraved with crest. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 2005.235.A)

The spoon is marked “T. T.” for Thomas Tookey with full London hallmarks for the year 1774. It is engraved with the crest adopted by John (“Jackie”) Parke Custis, son of Martha Washington (by her first husband) and stepson of George Washington. It was used at Mount Airy in Maryland, where Jackie Custis first lived with his wife Eleanor Calvert. Then it was used at White House plantation in New Kent County, Virginia. The spoon passed by inheritance to George Washington Parke Custis, who grew up at Mount Vernon and later built Arlington. There it was used by his daughter Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who married Robert E. Lee. They left Arlington at the beginning of the Civil War and buried much of their family silver at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. After the war it was recovered and the spoon was at the president’s house at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), where Lee was president from 1865 to 1870. The spoon then passed to Robert E. Lee, Jr., Mary Custis Lee, and by descent in the family until purchased by the Virginia Historical Society in 2005.

Silver Spoon, Detail, Back, London Hallmarks

Silver Spoon, Detail, Back, London Hallmarks. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 2005.235.A)

This spoon will be featured in the VHS’s exhibition, An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia. The exhibition, a signature project of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission, will open at the society on February 4, 2011, and be on display there until the end of the year.

This “Spoon That Got Around” . . . will continue its journey around Virginia when the exhibition travels to museums in Winchester, Lynchburg, Hampton, Roanoke, Quantico, Abingdon, and Appomattox between 2012 and 2015.

Rebecca A. Rose is the Registrar at the Virginia Historical Society.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Marilyn von Kuhlberg permalink
    11/24/2010 1:48 pm

    Thanks for another interesting tidbit of American History. Wondered if this spoon was in the trunks of Mary Custis Lee if it had been in her possession. It certainly is a spoon with a history. As mentioned in another post, I enjoy reading this e-mail versions of VHS news as it is not possible to visit in person.


    • Rebecca Rose permalink
      11/26/2010 1:14 pm

      To answer your question, the spoon was not part of the Mary Custis Lee trunks. Thank you for your comments.


  2. GOMEZ FRANCISCO permalink
    05/05/2013 4:25 pm

    tengo en mi poder una cuchara spoon de quadruple plate del gen robert e lee, con su busto grabado y su nombre, con el mango de la cuchara grabado con dibujo de un querubin o angelito, por la historia de las confederaciones este es un gran tesoro, esta muy bonita y completa


  3. 08/25/2013 11:46 pm

    My family has been in possession of a soup/serving spoon for generations that, according to family history, is from Robert E. Lee. Since we are descendants of the Lee family on my maternal grandfather’s side, this is entirely possible but we are wondering how to tell if the family stories are actually true. In other words, how to establish provenance on something like this? Also in the family possessions are a pair of spoons supposedly from Jefferson Davis, who is from my maternal grandmother’s side of the tree. Any help or advice you could give would be greatly appreciated!


    • Rebecca Rose permalink
      09/13/2013 10:09 am

      Thank you for your comments. After speaking with some of the museum collections staff, we think the first thing to do is to make sure the silver is old enough to have been owned by Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis. The silver should have hallmarks that identify the silversmith and, in some cases, the date of manufacture. There are books published on silver and plenty of online resources for hallmarks. I know there are some books you can refer to in the VHS Reading Room.

      You should see if the silver is specifically mentioned in wills or other family correspondence. Genealogical research is important to establish a link between the present owner and Robert E. Lee. We also want you to be aware that while sometimes family stories can be helpful in suggesting how and when items were acquired and descended, they can as often be misleading. Even if you establish a true link through the family, which is helpful—just being related, does not “prove” the family traditions that are passed down.

      We definitely think your first best move is to determine the silversmith on your family silver pieces. Followed by research on the wills or family correspondence to see if the family tradition can be proven. It sounds like you may have a means of tracing the family relations, and that might make the story more reliable.

      Rebecca A. Rose


  4. Julie Holzen permalink
    02/09/2014 7:56 pm

    Rebecca: About 20 years ago my father and I were working in his garden on the banks of the Coal River in St. Albans, West Virginia and he was using his deep digging tiller and all of a sudden up out of the ground the tiller had thrown a piece of metal and my dad stopped the tiller and went over to pick up the piece of metal and he brushed it off it shined but it had a small dent in the spoon from being pulled out of the ground by the tiller. On the spoon is the name in script of “Robert E. Lee” and my father lived there for years…and the Coal River comes down from the Virginia/Kentucky area.
    I have tried to do some research on this spoon and it is silver and had on the back neck of the spoon says INTERNATIONAL S.CO XII TRIPLE
    so I am not sure if this is for real….or what? I have had this in my files for 20 years.

    Is it possible that this spoon could have been used by Robert E. Lee and maybe washed down the rivers thru the years and my dad’s garden was on the river and it does go out of it banks during the Spring at times….but this spoon was buried deep in down in the earth of his garden….
    If you could give me some insight as to what to do…I would be elated to follow up on any kind of research. I have done a lot of research already and read about the areas where Robert E. Lee camped out with his army and I believe there is a possibility of this being one of his spoons.
    Thanks for taking time to read this long story.

    Julie Holzen


    • 02/11/2014 9:05 pm

      Thank you for your information. I would suggest that you research the inscription and silversmith marks, to help identify the dates the maker was in business, and see what that leads to. I think the inscription that gives International S. Co. is the key – so research that company. The company may have been working after the Civil War and making replicas for the revival crowd. According to Bill Rasmussen, the curator of our 2008 Lee and Grant exhibition, even though Lee was in Western Virginia at the start of the war, Lee surely would have left his silver at home and it would have been made by an individual silversmith. Also, he went by “R E Lee,” not “Robert E. Lee” another sign the silver may be a post-war replica.

      We also suggest that you make contact with one of the Robert E. Lee historic sites, that may be able to help you with your research and Lee silver in existence at Arlington House The Robert E. Lee Memorial and Stratford Hall, the Home of the Lee’s and Robert E. Lee birthplace.

      The VHS Library is open for research, Monday through Saturday from 10-5. Please check out our website for more information at

      Thank you,
      Rebecca A. Rose


  5. 11/10/2015 1:04 pm

    Rebecca, thank you so kindly and I shall follow thru with your advice and see what happens. Of course, I would love to be the owner of an original Robert E. Lee spoon if it is authentic.
    So I shall proceed, thanks, Rebecca, have a wonderful day and if anything comes out of this research, I will stay in touch with you for the initial advice! 🙂


  6. Laurie Coates permalink
    11/13/2016 7:44 am

    Thank you for you interesting and detailed information. I recently acquired a very interesting spoon at an estate sale. After exhaustive internet searches on multiple search engines I have found the exact spoon only one time in Google images. I will include a link that will take you to the image of the spoon that I have but I realize a lot of people are wary of links from strangers so to view the exact spoon I have please go to Google Chrome (Images) and type in “Jamestown Colony triffid spoon”. I know that “triffid” may be spelled incorrectly, (I have seen it spelled trefid), but that was the spelling that I used that found the only image of the exact spoon that I now own. The image on Google was taken directly from an archaeological book that was published regarding an archaeological dig by John L Carter and J. Paul Hudson titled: ”New Discoveries at Jamestown. Site of the first successful English settlement in America.”.

    I have a metalware spoon that is stamped, on the back of the handle, in cursive, exactly like this: “Jamestown – 1607”. The dimensions of the spoon are approximately; 4” L x 1 and ⅛” W at widest part of round bowl that is approximately a quarter of an inch in depth. The handle is flat with a rat tail connecting from handle to round bowl and the handle ends with a design resembling a cross at the top of handle. The metal is undetermined at this time. It is obvious that it is old metal and somewhat pitted but in good condition for its apparent age. I am not well-versed in ancient or early antique spoons and I am very interested in finding out more about this incredibly interesting spoon somehow associated with an archaeological dig on the Jamestown Colony. I would appreciate any assistance that you may be able to provide me or any knowledge you may have or even if you could point me in the right direction as to where to begin to find out more about this wonderful little spoon.

    Again thank you so much for your time and effort on my behalf in advance and I do look forward to hearing from you with any news or bits pieces of information that may help lead me to the discovery of the origins of this most interesting spoon.

    Here is the link that I promise to provide directing you to the exact image of the spoon that I have:

    Additionally, I have included a link to the manual of the archaeological dig that took place on the Jamestown Colony which also contains the image of my spoon:,John%20L/New%20Discoveries%20at%20Jamestown/text.htm

    Please feel free to reach out to me at anytime with any additional questions you may have concerning my spoon and I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. You can reach me anytime by email or phone at:

    Thank you.

    P.s. the attached pics are of my spoon that I write to you abou


    • 11/28/2016 4:59 pm

      Hello, Laurie. Thank you for reaching out to us about your spoon. You might want to reach out to Jamestown-Yorktown (toll free number: 888.593.4682) or Colonial Williamsburg (Brenda Leek, Their staff should be able to help you find some answers about your spoon. You may also want to reach out to an appraiser as well. Good luck!


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