Collectors Corner: Posy Holders and Sugar Nippers
By Michele Alice
For individuals seeking specimens for their various collections, the Victorian/Edwardian era remains one of the most productive periods to be mined.
Generally encompassing the decades between the 1830's and the start of World War I in 1914, the period witnessed the explosive growth of the middle classes made possible by the freeing up of markets during the Industrial Revolution. Personal articles and household items - such as posy holders and sugar nippers - that had been the almost exclusive provenance of the rich and powerful became affordable to millions as efficiencies in production and distribution generated vast new wealth.
That new wealth created demand for new designs, and the 19th century raised specialization and ornate elegance to new heights. Dining tables were no longer simply set with knife, fork, and spoon. A formal dinner required a compliment of tableware (dinnerware, glassware, flatware), sometimes including at least three forks (dinner, salad, cake), three spoons (tea, soup, dessert), and two knives (dinner, bread/butter). Serving became just as elaborate with implements designed exclusively for such items as asparagus, mustard, and relish.
Tea was drunk throughout the day, and afternoon (four o'clock) tea became an event with its own traditions, and was looked to with anticipation. Both formal and every-day tea sets reflected the value placed on the occasion, and one was almost certain to find a sugar tong or sugar nipper as part of the setting. Usually made of sterling silver, both were used to pick up cubes of sugar. Sugar nippers (nips for short), however, resembled scissors, while sugar tongs were either bow - a single piece of metal bent into a U-shape - or fire type - two pieces of metal joined at one end.
The term "sugar nipper" can also refer to a larger, usually cast iron or steel tool used to break off chunks of sugar from a larger mass. These are collectible in their own right with prices ranging up to $100 for rarer examples.
It was also during the Victorian period that personal items that had long been in use took on new meaning and acquired more elaborate aesthetics. Hat pins, compacts, and posy holders became, not just necessities, but fashion statements.
Posies - or nosegays - had long existed as a means of warding off illness or for shielding one's olfactory senses from the unpleasant smells of pre-plumbed urban life. By the Victorian era, the posy holder had evolved to hold the gift from a "gentleman-caller." A small funnel-shaped vessel usually made of silver, it was designed to be pinned to a dress or attached by a chain to a ring around a finger. In the U.S., the holder was sometimes called a tussie-mussie in reference to the wet moss that held the flower or nosegay in place.
Both posy holders/tussie-mussies and sugar tongs/nips of the period often fetch $200 to $400 at auction. But whether you're interested in any one of these or hundreds of other possible collectibles, as you can see, their histories can be as fascinating as the objects themselves.
If you'd like to find out more, check out the resources listed below, and
Starting to Collect Antique Silver, by Ian Pickford
Tussie Mussies: Victorian Posey Holders, by Jeri Schwartz. Out of print but may be available elsewhere.
The Victorian Dining Room, by Brian D. Coleman
Victorian Fashion Accessories, by Ariel Beaujot
Dictionary of Flatware Pieces - Helpful page at The Silver Queen has photographs of dozens of types of flatware including serving pieces.
Posy Holder Tussie Mussie - Nicely illustrated description.
SilverSugarTongs.com - Dedicated to period from 1760 to 1820, but some Victorian. Lots of great info and pics.
SilverTeaTongs.com - Expert site argues that nips were originally called Tea Tongs.
Sugar Cutters and Nippers - All about the larger domestic tool.
Sugar Tongs, Tea Tongs, Sugar Nips - Describes the different types.
Holders for Pretty Posies Bring a Pretty Penny - Interesting article on tussie-mussies.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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