by Wayne Bednersh

nebraska hammer spoon columbian expo palmer

At our 2010 spoon convention abroad the beautiful Carnival Splendor, I bought this intriguing heavy tea size spoon with the
words "Nebraska Hammer" on the stem. I knew it was somehow related to the Columbian World  Fair  in Chicago, 1893,
but I didn't know the significance of all the little parts of the spoon.

After spending many hours researching the spoon on the net, I finally looked at Chis McGlothlin's book , "World Fair Spoons" and
realized I could have saved a lot of time and energy if I had consulted it in the first place.

However, I did uncover some new facts in my hours of research, so I will retell the story.

The Woman's Building

The Woman's building was a major breakthrough for woman's rights in the USA.

" Great interest attached to the fact that Congress authorized a "Board of Lady Managers" and gave them a Woman’s Building. The erection: of this novel structure was entrusted to Miss Sophia Hayden, architect, of Boston. It is considered noteworthy that the female sex, celebrated for its love of ornament, placed in Jackson Park the plainest of its buildings. The style is called Italian Renaissance, and the ungainly central feature is a skylight which, however, produced an interior effect of uncommon beauty and utility. The grand hall of this edifice was a popular meeting-place, and the whole fabric was thronged with prominent people. The loggias were attractive and impressive, and commanded fine views. There were cafs (sic) at each end of the roof, covered with Oriental awnings. The statuary on the building was modeled by Miss Alice Rideout, of California, and represented Sacrifice, Charity, Virtue and Wisdom. One of the paintings herein exhibited was the work of the lamented Marie Bashkirtseff; and the wife of MacMonnies, who made the chief fountain, was one of the principal interior decorators. The last nail was a golden one, presented to Mrs. Potter Palmer, President of the Board of Lady Managers, by the ladies of Montana, and it was driven in May, with a hammer presented by the ladies of Nebraska. The golden nail, when drawn, served as the principal piece of a brooch, which became the property of Mrs. Palmer, who had wielded the hammer. Dimensions of the Woman’s Building, one hundred and ninety-nine by three hundred and eighty-eight feet, sixty feet or two stories high. Cost, $138,000. "

As you can see, Mrs. Palmer is depicted at the top of the spoon.
Below her is a hammer wrapped in the flag and you can see the nail in the center of  the flag draping.

On the back of the spoon is the state insignia for Montana.

According to one writer, "Mr. Springer (member of US. House of Representatives) offered his amendment as a graceful tribute to the women of our country, and it was passed by Congress without a dissenting voice, and without one thought of the importance of the measure which was to give legal right, for the first time in the history of any nation, to the organization of a body of women to transact business for the Government."

This part of the story is interesting and readily known.

The Spoon Bowl

The mysterious part of this spoon is the bowl depicted below.

colorado mineral building spoon

The building depicted in the bowl is not the woman's building commonly found in spoons from the exposition, instead it is marked as
"Colorado Mineral Palace" and  "Pueblo". Underneath the building is the word "casket". Surrounding the building is the date "Apr 29, 1893".
Above the building "Women's happy thoughts" and below the building "indicative of their work".

After extensive research I found that there was no "Colorado Mineral Palace" at the fair, nor did I understand the word "casket".

On July 4, 1890, Colorado opened a museum in the city of Pueblo known as the Colorado Mineral Palace. This was a particularly beautiful building and  housed
samples of all the minerals mined in Colorado, as well as an astounding collection of artifacts made with gold and silver, including the infamous "silver queen" sculpture
which was later displayed at the Columbian World Fair in Chicago.

I was having trouble understanding why the Colorado museum was pictured in the spoon bowl for what appeared to be  the grand opening of the Woman's building in Chicago.

During my research I stumbled upon an antique dealers site and they had a one piece paper for sale.
"One sheet, 7" wide by 5-1/2" high, folded once. Printed in dark red on ivory coated paper. The items described are "The Colorado Mineral Palace Casket" (a small model of the building, made out of silver); The Nebraska Hammer (the hammer that drove the last nail into the Women's Building); and The Montana Nail, (the last nail.) All of precious metals. Photographs and drawings of the items. A nice clean copy.?"

Suddenly, everything made sense. Depicted was a model of the building (called a casket), because the Nebraska Hammer and gold nail  were to lie inside it.
These artifacts were all part of the 'Grand Opening' celebration for the Woman's building  and they were also on display in the  building lobby.

The Patent

With further research, I found  Patent number: D22557,
Filing date: May 23, 1893, Issue date: Jun 27, 1893

To all whom it may concern.

Be it known that I, Charles Otero, a citizen of the United States, residing at Pueblo, in the county of Pueblo and State of Colorado, have invented and produced a new and original Design for a Spoon, of which the following is a specification, reference being had to the accompanying drawings, forming a part of this specification, in which—

to Figure 1 is a plan view of the obverse side of a spoon embodying the features of my design ; and Fig. 2 is a plan view of the reverse side of the spoon.

The design consists in the handle, which

15 comprises the representation of a hammer symbolical of the Nebraska hammer, a flag draped around the hammer, a nail coupled with the hammer and flag and representative

of the Montana nail, and a medallion decorated with a portrait intended to represent the 20 likeness of a female, the entire handle design being symbolical of woman's work. The obverse side of the bowl of the spoon is decorated with the representation of the Colorado mineral palace casket. The obverse side of 25 the handle also represents a hammer draped with a flag and surmounted by a medallion, the medallion representing upon its surface the Montana State coat of arms. I claim— 30

The design for a spoon, substantially as herein shown and described.

             CHARLES OTERO. Witnesses: James Hopkins, Lawrence L. Ernst.

The actual spoon is a little different from the patent description, but the picture is substantially similar.


This is a heavy sterling silver tea sized spoon with a manufacture mark  by Howard Sterling  Co.
Providence, RI (1878 -1902). Originally the bowl was gilded, but in my example much of the gilding has worn off.

Subsequently, I found a spoon depicting the famous Colorado Mineral Palace in Pueblo, Co.
colorado mineral palace spoon

The handle of this sterling spoon is a generic 'good luck' spoon depicting a horseshoe, four leaf clovers, swastika (a symbol of luck at that time) and the back contains more good luck symbols.
The gold washed bowl has a nice embossed picture of the Mineral Palace. This piece was manufactured by Paye and Baker.
Note: the detail on this spoon is much nicer and more complete than the picture of the casket shown on the Nebraska  Hammer spoon.

The Woman's Building

"Among the features which distinguish the Columbian from all former international expositions are the scope and character of its Woman’s department; and among the most pleasing exhibits of that department is the building which contains them. For the first time in World’s Fair annals, as I have said, a special edifice has been devoted to the purposes of that department, or rather to a portion of its purposes, for, side by side, not only in the great temples of industry, but in state and foreign pavilions, are specimens of male and female workmanship. For the first time also has been designed by a woman a structure fashioned for such uses."

woman's building spoons, columbian fair

The first two spoons show Mrs. Potter Palmer and the Woman's building  in the bowl.
The rightmost spoon shows Mrs. Palmer and the Children Home she established in Chicago.

More spoons from the Columbian World Fair  may be seen at
visit the Columbian worlds fair exhibits index

Return to Spoon stories index

Return to Exhibits index