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Antique silver: not just for lavish occasions and ceremonies

Monday, 01 July 2013

Most people, apart from antique silver dealers of course, would be forgiven for thinking that silver equals stately banquets, lavish ornaments and abundant wealth. Not so. In addition to finely crafted spoons, plates, goblets and tureens used at the grandest dinner parties, there was also a different area of life where silver items were fashioned and used.

 This area was medicine, or to be more specific, child nutrition. For nearly 300 years a gruel-type concoction of breadcrumbs, flour, rice or barley was mixed with liquids such as broth, milk, water, wine and even beer, and was given to infants to aid digestion. It was given the name Pap.

To aid further ingestion of this delightful mixture, the Pap Boat was invented. These were small (4 ½” x 2 ½”), lid-less, handle-less vessels with an extended lip at one end for placing in the child’s mouth. They were made of silver, wood, pewter, bone, porcelain and sometimes glass and could hold around 1-2oz.

There are examples of antique silver pap boats dating from the 17th century. These are mostly plain but becoming progressively more elaborate with, say, gilt interiors throughout the 1700’s and 1800’s.

Although pap was used in many middle and upper class family homes (hence the silver pap boat), it was generally the only form of sustenance used to feed unwanted or illegitimate children. However pap very often wasn’t enough to prevent the child mortality rate from hitting all-time highs in orphanages and other institutions for poor infants.

Despite this and increasing concerns of physicians as to the merits of the persistent pap diet, the stodgy mix continued to be the food of choice given by nannies to children in nurseries up and down the country. It only began to be less popular in the late 1800s, which is why there are some very interesting antique silver pap boats to be found, such as the George III silver pap boat, designed by eminent silversmith William Eaton.

It should be noted that pap boats were not just used in the feeding of children as hospitals or physicians also took to the pap boat as a way of force-feeding pap (or other mixtures) into a patient.

Antique silver pap boats can be found up to the date 1903 when the pap boat was re-named Feeding Cup.

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