Spoon Boards
Written and researched by Kevin Wright
Spoon board detail. Carved with a Kas / cupboard and 3 potted plants.
See Fig. 3 below.
One of the most personal treasures made by the early settlers of Bergen County was the chip-carved spoon board*, a love token which a young man would give to the young lady of his choice. These ornamental racks seem to be almost unique to the Hackensack River Valley settlers, since nearly all known examples of them originate in this region. Fortunately, almost all of the boards are dated and/or initialed. With this help, we have been able to document their histories through marriage records which correspond to dates and names.

Hackensack Valley spoon racks are simple backboards with three ledges usually pierced to insert a dozen spoon handles. These jackknife relics of the delightful custom of giving handmade emblems were made to speak the donor's affections. After the marriage, it can be assumed a spoon was given each time a child was christened (a custom that still survives in many families). The spoon rack then became a family record and the object of great pride, much as a bible or fraktur. The twelve openings for spoons indicate the hoped for size of families in olden times.

Ornamentation consists of carved roundels and geometric devices covering the entire surface. A six-lobed star, actually a stylized open tulip, is the most common motif. Pinwheels represent the Wheel of Life and the Wheel of Fortune. Such rotating devices, no doubt inspired by the sun and the revolving seasons, are fertility symbols common to many primitive agricultural societies. Occasionally, scenic panels or mythical figures were introduced.

A spoon-holder (Fig. 1 left) found in the Zabriskie-Van Dien House, 449 Paramus Road, has the inscription: "AN 1731/ AH" within a heart. The reverse side has the crudely carved initials" AHJZ." The board was a wedding gift from J an J. Zabriskie (11), a farmer of Paramus, to Aaltje Hopper. He served as a Bergen County Freeholder in 1744, 1751, 1759, and 1764-5. She was born in Ho-Ho-Kus, the daughter of Andries H. Hopper and Abigail Ackerman of Paramus. The couple married in 1731.

Another spoon board is inscribed "L DMR/P DMR" (Fig. 1 center). The reverse side is dated" 1791." Petrus Demarest (1769-1841) married Lea Blauvelt at Tappan, October 30, 1793.

The lag in time between the date of the token and the actual marriage indicates that customs varied as to the appropriate occasion for presenting a carved token. Some were obviously wooden valentines which indicated a suitor's intentions. Its acceptance probably indicated a reciprocal interest and a courtship ensued. These tokens were also used as a confirmatory gift at the time of betrothal. According to prenuptial contracts, a prospective groom was given a specified time, usually a year, in which to accumulate the necessary estate to maintain his bride according to her expectations. This long engagement would also explain the spoon boards predating marriage.

One one spoon board, the crest has been elaborately cut out with a fretsaw to form a triangular pattern of roundels. It is marked" Anno 1734/Daviet De Marest," (Fig. 1 right). The initials are separated by the date. This token was probably made by the donor for Marritje Demarest. The couple was married October 29, 1736, at Schraalenburgh.

Fig. 1 (left) Spoon board, Paramus, 1731. Inscribed "ANNO 1731 A H" within a heart, chip carved design, three strips for 12 spoons, from the Zabriskie-Van Dien house on Paramus Road. Jan J. Zabriskie was a farmer in Paramus. He married in 1731, 19-1/2" x 9-1/2".
BCHS
Fig. 2 (center) Spoon board, Bergen County, 1791. Inscribed "L DMR P DMR: on face, "P+D1791" on reverse, chip carved, 3 strips for 12 spoons. Petrus Demarest married Lea Blauvelt at Tappan, October 30, 1793, 21-1/2" x 8".
BCHS
Fig. 3 (top-right) Spoon board, Schraalenburgh (now Bergenfield) 1734. Inscribed "D ANNO 1734 M H / David Demarest," married October 29, 1736, at Schraalenburgh, 14" x 8-3/4".
BCHS
The most elaborately worked board, found in the Garretson Forge, has the beautiful profile of a tulip in the uppermost panel (Fig. 2). Four mermaids appear between the two upper spoon-ledges.
Fig. 2.
Spoon board, Fair Lawn, c. late 17 C. or early 18 C., pine, three strips for 12 spoons, found at the Garretson Forge, design includes four mermaids, 7" w x 21-3/4". Private collection.
Fig. 3.
Spoon board, Bergen County, c. late 17 C. or early 18 C., chip carved, picturing cupboard with three potted plants, three strips for 12 spoons, knob-like peak has a carved face, 24" x 8". Bergen County Historical Society (37.15).
A spoon rack in the collection of the Bergen County Historical Society has spirals and flowers (Fig. 3). The crest is curiously carved with a cupboard in which linens and other finery were stored. A potted houseplant and other crockery sit atop the tall chest " The crests of the spoon boards were usually semicircular as if to represent the rising sun. Many are surmounted by a small knob-like peak. In the cupboard spoon board, this tiny circle was inscribed with a face.

Sometimes, the entire board was painted, with bottle green being the most frequent choice of color. Occasionally, the design was emphasized by painting the incised pattern. Bright active colors, such as yellow, red, white and orange were chosen. The
base of the board was usually lobed or had lathe-turned knobs inserted.
Through color and design, what could have been merely a mundane and utilitarian object also served as a sentimental and ornamental family treasure for a suitor and his prospective bride. Even today, the fanciful spoon boards intrigue us with their enduring charm.
*The Dutch term "lepel borties" may be translated as either spoon board, rack or holder.
3 Spoon boards from the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum Collections

The Tree of Life: Selections from Bergen County Folk Art by Kevin W. Wright

Betty Schmelz, Charles B. Szeglin and Irene Fitzgerald were also involved in the project.


Published by the Bergen County Historical Society
Copyright 1983

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