Recently I acquired a very interesting 6" hand made spoon which
appeared to be a memento of a 100th celebration. This spoon has led me
on a far reaching excursion into the development of modern medicine
including the founding of Johns Hopkins medical school, the
poetry of Walt Whitman, the cosmic consciousness of Dr. Bucke and the
ancient religious mystical philosophies of the Buddha, Jesus and the
Kabbalah as well as Canadian history. The journey was interesting and
fascinating and ended up in quite a different place than I originally
Around the turn of the 20th century, it was fashionable to have
"souvenir" spoons to commemorate certain events. Most of these spoons
are wonderful silver memorabilia of customs or events which appealed to
a wide variety of spoon collectors. Collectors of these mementos
occasionally discover custom made spoons which were designed for
specific individuals or to commemorate family events.
This spoon had two engraved names, a date, a logo, and other letters
and it took extensive research to figure it out.
At the finial of the spoon is a stylized cross which is often referred
to as as a 'ringed cross'. This type of cross has ancient roots in the
Scottish, Irish and Welch community and appears to have been adopted
into Christianity from its Celtic origins. "The knotwork, spirals and
key patterns on the carved cross side of [the] 7th or 8th century
Pictish monument are usually treated by scholars as a subject that can
be described and classified but is rarely interpreted. When the meaning
of the decorative elements are attempted the academic scholar tends to
be very cautious and will often cite obscure references in ways that
make their text difficult to understand."
Below the ringed cross is the date "14th Dec." and below the day, the
years "1806-1906". It was immediately obvious to me that this was a
100th year commemorative of something happening on Dec. 14.
The front of the handle is decorated with various knots and patterns
and the motto "one and all" is presented.
The bowl is left unused on front and back.
Around the top edge of the ringed cross, we find the words "Ellen Free
Osler" deeply engraved in a plain modernist style (unable to get a
picture). On the back of the ringed cross we find the words/letters
"MeorRasdheDheu" engraved in an older english style script.
On the back of the handle we find the name "Britton Vaughan
Abbott" in an engraving style popular at that time in history.
The mark is an anchor, the letter "E' in a maple leaf, and a rampant
lion all of which are above the word "sterling". Rainwater's
"Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers" 3rd Edition identifies
this mark as belonging to J.E.Ellis & Co. of Toronto, Canada.
However this firm ceased operation in 1901 when the contents were
auctioned off, but we know this spoon was created in 1906. There was a
'successor' firm , P.W. Ellis of Toronto, Canada which was incorporated
in 1901 and I suspect that this spoon was made by the P.W. Ellis
company and they used the 'old marks' for this commission.
Extensive research finally led to "Ellen Free Osler", born to Rev.
Featherstone Lake Osler and Ellen Free Pickton Osler on Dec. 14, 1806
in England. Thus my initial inclination that this was a spoon to
commemorate a 100th anniversary was confirmed. I later received further
confirmation that a major birthday celebration was held to commemorate
her 100th birthday.
At that time, a person living to 100 was a very rare event.
Mrs. Osler had nine children. The eighth, "William" became one of the
most famous doctors of all time.
"John S. Billings recruited William Osler in 1888 to be
physician-in-chief of the soon-to-open Johns Hopkins Hospital and
professor of medicine at the planned school of medicine. Osler was the
second appointed member of the original four medical faculty, following
William H. Welch and preceding Howard A. Kelly and William S. Halsted.
He revolutionized the medical curriculum of the United States and
Canada, synthesizing the best of the English and German systems. Osler
adapted the English system to egalitarian American principles by
teaching all medical students at the bedside. He believed that students
learned best by doing and clinical instruction should therefore begin
with the patient and end with the patient. Books and lectures were
supportive tools to this end. The same principles applied to the
laboratory, and all students were expected to do some work in the
bacteriology laboratory. Osler introduced the German postgraduate
training system, instituting one year of general internship followed by
several years of residency with increasing clinical responsibilities.
William Osler’s book, The Principles and Practice of Medicine,
first published in 1892, supported his imaginative new curriculum. It
was based upon the advances in medical science of the previous fifty
years and remained the standard text on clinical medicine for the next
forty years. In 1905 he accepted the Regius Professorship of Medicine
at Oxford University, at the time the most prestigious medical
appointment in the English-speaking world. He left Maryland with warm
feelings for Hopkins knowing that his sixteen years spent had laid a
solid foundation for the future of Hopkins medical education."
The Osler Library for the History of Medicine, based at McGill
University, Montreal, claims to be "Canada's foremost scholarly
resource in the history of medicine, and one of the most important
libraries of its type in North America." The Library has at its core a
collection of 8000 works relating to the history of medicine donated by
I contacted the curator of that museum, Chris Lyons, Assistant History
of Medicine/Biomedical Ethics, Liaison Librarian, Osler Library of the
History of Medicine, McGill University, and he answered some of my
questions about the spoon: "Thank you for your question[s]. I have
looked into the question of your spoon and discovered that there were
commemorative spoons made to celebrate the 100th birthday of Ellen Free
Osler on December 14, 1906. The birthday party was held in Toronto and
her living children, including Sir William Osler, and her grandchildren
and great grandchildren attended. Special plates and spoons were given
to all the descendents "and have become treasured family memorabilia."
This information comes from Michael Bliss' biography of Sir William
Osler, "William Osler: A Life in Medicine" (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1999), P. 337. Harvey Cushing's biography "The Life Of
Sir William Osler" (Oxford, 1925) says that Ellen Free Osler had the
spoons made. They had a Cornish cross for a handle and came in three
sizes for the 6 living children, 26 grandchildren and 21
great-grandchildren (volume 2, p. 72). Britton Vaughan Abbott was one
of the descendents. She was the daughter of Georgina Pickton Osler and
Alexander Crever Abbott. Britton was born on 15 January 1897. Georgina
Pickton Osler was the daughter of Featherstone Osler, who was one of
Ellen Free Osler's sons and a brother of William Osler, making Britton
a great granddaughter. This information is from "The Descendants of
Edward Osler(1734-1786) of Falmouth" which was compiled by Paul
McFarland in London, England in 1993. I could not find anything on the
significance of "one and all" and "MeorBasoheDheu". I hope this helps.
Congratulations on obtaining such an interesting item."
This information tells us that spoons were distributed to many of the
descendents. Since this item is engraved "Britton Vaughn Abbott", I
suspect that she was the recipient of this particular spoon. Britton's
father was a famous dentist: "The study of bacteriology was instituted
as a new course for third year dental students in 1896. Alexander
Crever Abbott, M.D., Dr. P.H., Sc.D. (1860-1935), the Pepper Professor
of Hygiene and Director of the Laboratory of Hygiene at the University
of Pennsylvania, was hired as the course director. A. C. Abbott was one
of the three founding fathers of the Society of American
Bacteriologists (now the American Society for Microbiology) at a
meeting held at Yale University Medical School (December 27-29, 1899).
He was instrumental in creating the first graduate course in public
health in the United States. Several of his seminal works were The
Hygiene of Transmissible Diseases and The Principles of Bacteriology
which became the text for the dental school course. This was the first
textbook on bacteriology in the United States. In 1897 a laboratory for
bacteriological work was included in the newly constructed Dental Hall."
I was unable to find any information about Britton Vaughan
Abbott's life or any further information on her mother.
Ellen Free Osler also had three other children who became very
important in Canada.
Britton Bath Osler is recognized as one of Canada’s most
distinguished trial lawyers. As a prosecutor he was involved in
numerous murder trials including the conviction of Louis Riel, "the
father of Manitoba", on charges of treason following the
North-West Rebellion of 1885. Riel was viewed sympathetically in the
French speaking regions of Canada, and his execution had a
lasting influence on relations between the province of Quebec and the
English speaking provinces of Canada. Riel remains one of the most
complex, controversial, and ultimately tragic figures in the history of
Featherstone Osler (Jr.) was called to the bar in 1860 and made a Judge
of the Court of Common Pleas in 1879 and a Judge of the Court of
Appeals in 1883. In 1880, he had refused an appointment to the Supreme
Court of Canada because he didn't speak French. He retired from the
bench in 1910 and became president of the Toronto General Trusts
Edmund Boyd Osler started his career as a clerk at the Bank of
Upper Canada, where he stayed until 1867, when the bank failed, and
then as an independent financier and stockbroker with different
partners. He was involved with many railroad projects and became
president of the Ontario and Quebéc Railway and later also
director of the Canadian Pacific Railway. He was also director of the
Toronto General Trusts Company and the Canada North-West Land Company,
and president of the Dominion Bank. From 1896 until 1917, Edmund
Osler was continuously re- elected to the House of Commons as a
Conservative from West Toronto.
A google search turned up the phrase "one and all" in one of Dr.
Osler's many speeches. He said: "to you who hear me now, and to you who
may elsewhere read my words, to you who do our greatest work labouring
incessantly for small rewards in towns and country places, to you the
more favoured ones who have special fields of work, to you teachers and
professors and scientific workers, to one and all through the length
and breadth of the land, I give you a single word as my parting
commandment. It is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is
not in heaven that thou shouldst say, ‘Who shall go up for us to
heaven and bring it unto us that we may hear it and do it?’
Neither is it beyond the sea that thou shouldst say, ‘Who shall
go over the sea for us and bring it unto us, that we may hear it and do
it?’ But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy
heart, that thou mayest do it [Dr. Osler is quoting Deuteronomy]
I have not been able to determine conclusively why the phrase "one and
all" was used on a spoon commemorating Mrs. Osler's centennial birthday
party, but assume that it was related to Sir William Osler's
relationship with Walt Whitman, the famous poet. The phrase, "one and
all" was also used by Walt Whitman in his most important work,
"Leaves of Grass": "The city sleeps and the country sleeps, the living
sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time, the old husband
sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his wife; and these
tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them, and such as it is to be
of these more or less I am, and of these one and all I weave the song
of myself. "
I do not think this is co-incidental as Dr. Osler was one of Walt
Whitman's doctors and owned a signed copy of "Leaves of Grass".
According to Phillip W. Leon in a treatise about an unfinished
manuscript Dr. Osler was preparing concerning his relationship with
Walt Whitman he stated: " William Osler served as one of Walt Whitman's
physicians from 1884, when he moved to Philadelphia to become Professor
of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, until 1889, when he left
Philadelphia for Baltimore. Osler was introduced to Whitman by a mutual
friend, Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke, Whitman's avid disciple and
biographer. After his stroke of 1873, Whitman suffered from recurrent
episodes of illness (perhaps small strokes?). Osler first paid a call
to Whitman's home in Camden at Bucke's request and subsequently visited
him on numerous occasions." Mr. Leon also wrote "Whitman respected
Osler, but did not particularly like his sunny, optimistic bedside
manner. Osler respected Whitman, but for the most part did not like his
poetry. (Leon, however, discovered some handwritten notes on Osler's
copy of Leaves of Grass that suggest Osler grew in his later years to
appreciate Whitman's poetry.)". Leon's treatise and notes also describe
Osler's relationship with Dr. Bucke who was the developer of a theory
of "cosmic consciousness", and this phrase certainly connotes such a
consciousness (note: the phrase is also used in a translation based
upon the Buddha's teaching.)
The biggest mystery on the spoon are the engraved words/letters
"MeorRasdheDheu". Despite extensive investigation, I do not have a good
definition of these words. The words are not English and I suspect that
they are of indo-European origin and are probably related to Dr.
Bucke's theory of Cosmic Consciousness.
This part of the report is speculation as to the meaning of these
Dr. Bucke's classic book, "Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the
Evolution of the Human Mind ", pub. 1901 (still in print) and is
one of the leading books on mysticism. Briefly he contends "a third
type of consciousness among humans. There is, first, the simple
consciousness of existence and, second, a higher level of
self-consciousness. Bucke added a third and profoundly higher level,
'cosmic consciousness', which he believed to have been attained by only
a few dozen individuals by 1901. These include Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed,
Dante, Whitman, Francis Bacon, Blake, as well as Bucke himself."
As far as I was able to determine, "meor" comes from the old
Kaballah mysticism of Judiasm and is related to an elevated or redeemed
position in cosmic intelligence. I was not able to determine a meaning
for "Rasdhe" under this or various related spellings. "Dheu" apparently
has its roots from a spiritual death and is related to the final
separation of the spirit/soul from the body which is a basic philosophy
of most religions. All of this somehow relates to the Hindu cycle of
rebirth [circle] re-interpreted into a modern context of a spiral
wherein time comes from somewhere and goes to somewhere in a pattern
which repeats (a similar but not an exact repeat). Death and
birth frame the human life, but there is life before birth and life
after death. Death tells us that we, in life, are not in control and
Christ tells us that death is not in control. According to the Buddha
there is a unity in all things thus the motto "one and all".
Thus, a simple spoon has the power to transcend generations and give us
a glimpse into the private affairs of a thoughtful, productive family.
NOTE: some readers claim that I have misinterpreted the words
"MeorRasdheDheu". They have made the assertion that this is old English
or old Welsh. I looked at old English and old Welsh and Old Irish
dictionaries on the web and I was unable to find any of these words
with these or related spellings. However, I am open-minded and if
someone with more expertise in this area can show me proof that my
interpretation of these words is wrong, I will happily change my
I have received the following email response from NL Young
There isn't really any 1 place: depending on whether Irish
Gaelic, Welsh Gaelic or Scots Gaelic, the key word is DHEU ( ie
God),. And if one knows French for
example, DIEU is God.
And the French have Celtic/Gaelic speakers of their own in
Brittany/Normandy. So is this a case where the
Gaelic for God snuck into the French, or whether the French version got
into the Gaelic. Go back to the Mary Queen of Scots
period : big movement of French & Scots who were allies & both
wary of England's Queen Eliz. I.
Depending on the tense of the verb and a whole slew of things only a
Gaelic speaker could explain (tenses, singular, plural &
verbs doing the action)
God can be Dheu, Dia, Duw, Dhe,
Something such as Great or Big (ie to signify a size
) could be spelt Meor, or Mur, & variations
And spellings will vary whether you are Highland Scot or Lowland
Scot, whether 18C phrase or a mid 20thCent variation etc etc, --
or Gaelic spoken in Scotland as opposed to old Gaelic
still spoken in Nova Scotia (Cape Breton),Canada, etc etc.
Gaelic was much more often the spoken people's language, much
discouraged to be written & printed when the English were the
high ruling class, and hence all these variations.
While the spellings will be different depending on who is writing, the
spoken/pronounced words will be prob. pretty similar to a Welsh, Scots,
or Irish person hearing.
Much as a Norwegian, Dane & Swede will all know most of each
other's languages altho' the words will have simple or even major
Cornwall in England had was Celtic background & their
equivalent is "Meras tha dew" .........
Cornwall has much to do w/ the Celts/Gaelic speakers of Ireland, Wales
& Scotland & France.
You could spend 2 weeks w/ a linguist on this simple phrase!