monkey spoon

This monkey is scratching his head and also wondering about these very strange spoons and ladles from the Netherlands

These spoons are probably among the strangest and most unusual in the entire spoon universe.

I have finally documented what is believed to be one of the largest collection of monkey spoons and ladles in the world.

Because there are so many spoons and pictures, I have broken this exhibit into several parts.

But first -- a little history.

The term "monkey spoon" has been applied to a very unusual folk art style ladle/spoon  that was created to celebrate weddings and to honor those who died (funerals).
We currently believe that these spoons were primarily used by the Dutch settlers of the New York/Hudson river area and in the Netherlands (Holland).
The spoon design appears to have come from the Netherland's province of Friesland (Frisia) and probably from Leeuwarden. In that area they are generically called  'cream spoons'.
These spoons were made from the mid 1700's to 1900 and were made in various countries by immigrant silversmiths.

The primary use of these spoons was in the serving of a popular rum and raisin toddy. The Dutch have been known to be heavy drinkers and the
American Dutch dominated the rum trade between New York, the Caribbean Islands and Europe. The pierced bowl ladles were for the serving of the raisins without the rum.

All of these spoons have a hook and could hang from a bowl edge. All of these spoons are hand made.
They are not the product of a factory and many have an unsophisticated quality.
Most of them are made from 800 or better quality silver, but some of them are unmarked

These spoons are composed of three parts: a large bowl, a boss on the handle and a finial emblem soldered to the curved part of the handle'
The bowls vary in size and shape and orientation.
This makes the spoons three dimensional and a two dimensional photo cannot capture the total spoon, so I have resorted to a lot of detail shots.

Why are they called Monkey Spoons

That is a good question, and no one knows for sure. Several hypotheses have been made and you are free to accept the one that suits you.

1. Since the  monkey spoons all have a hook on the stem and they hang by that hook, it would "look like a monkey hanging by its tail" (my favorite).

2. Most monkey spoons have a small figural emblem on the high part of the curve. I haven't seen any that look like a monkey (Some later reproductions supposedly had a monkey as a word play on the name but I have never seen one), however, there is one style that is very hard to figure out. Some people see a "monkey" in this figure (I don't).

3. When people drink too much they often act strangely. In Dutch the term "zuiging the monkey" is an archaic reference to drunkenness.

4. In the language of the sea, a ship which contained the full allotment of grog (rum or beer) was called a moncorn (some people think that the word monkey was derived from this word).  Another sailor phrase was 'to suck the monkey' which was used to refer to the practice of drinking alcohol through a straw in a surreptitious fashion.

Take your choice. There is no "wrong" answer.

Another word of caution

Very little is known about these spoons and the only book on silver which discusses these spoons is my book.

I have read every article I could find about these spoons (which is very few) and all of the writers have encountered the same problem with figuring out the purpose and who were the primary purchasers of these intriguing spoons.

I have also exhausted the capabilities of the vast silver book collection at the  Huntington Library (Pasadena) in trying to understand these spoons.

Many of the spoons contain silver marks. In some cases, the marks appear to be pseudo marks (but I do not have access to some of the silver mark books from Europe)  and have not been traced to a silversmith. But there are some known makers. If anyone wants to help, please contact me.

monkey spoons

Click these links to see some wonderful pictures of these very intriguing and unusual spoons.

1. Very large monkey spoons

2. Wedding style monkey spoons

3. Funeral style monkey spoons

4. Different  style monkey spoons

(as if all of these spoons are not unusual enough)

In "Two hoof spoons
September 1, 1978  |  By ALBERT SCHER; from The Magazine ANTIQUES, September 1978."

Mr. Scher says:

" For example, Dutch godparents gave a gebortelepel, or birth spoon, to a newborn child; newlyweds were often given a silver spoon; and an engraved silver spoon was commonly presented to each pallbearer at a funeral."

From the Oxford English Dictionary we have this definition


Pronunciation:  Brit.     /ˈmʌŋkɪ spuːn/ , U.S. /ˈməŋki ˌspun/
Etymology:  < monkey n. + spoon n.... (Show More)
Now hist.
Categories »
  A type of decorative silver ladle made to commemorate a wedding, christening, or funeral among people of Dutch origin living in the Hudson River area of the United States. Cf. Apostle spoon n.
Such spoons usually had a hooked stem with a front boss, and a relief image on the surface of the bowl appropriate to the occasion being celebrated.

1833   T. Sedgwick Mem. Life W. Livingston ii. 64   To each of the eight bearers [at a funeral in New York, 1749],..a monkey spoon was given. [Note] This spoon differed from the common one in having a circular and very shallow bowl, and took its name from the figure of an ape or monkey, which was carved in solido at the extremity of the handle.
1881   Harper's Mag. Mar. 530/1   Each of the eight bearers [at a 1749 funeral] was given a pair of gloves, a monkey-spoon, and a mourning ring.
1895   E. C. Brewer Dict. Phrase & Fable (rev. ed.) 852/2   Monkey spoons, spoons at one time given in Holland at marriages, christenings, and funerals. They may still be picked up occasionally at curiosity shops.
2002 18 Jan. (O.E.D. Archive) ,   This monkey spoon has a medallion for a boss. I have never before seen this on a monkey spoon.

From :

Toward a More Perfect Union: Virtue and the Formation of American Republics
 By Ann Fairfax Withington, 1991

"People of different denominations had slightly different funeral customs.  Members of the Dutch Reformed Church, like other colonists,  gave away gloves and scarves, but they also gave bottles of wine, monkey spoons, and doed-koecks (dead cakes), and they were less likely to give away mourning rings."



"Monkey spoon --a spoon with the image on an Apostle on the handle, common funeral gifts"

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