Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Newsletter #21 - April 2013

(Click on the image above to zoom)

A "Flock of Silver Storks" illustrates the Steppes Hill Farm Antiques Newsletter for April.Usually Dutch or German in origin, where the large and distinctive migratory birds are highly revered and surrounded by folklore, these 19th and early 20th century sterling silver novelties made in the form of a pair of scissor type tongs have always provoked conflicting views about their original practical purpose.

The acquisition of a small collection of mainly English Sterling Silver examples encouraged me to delve deeper into their background. They generally take the form of a hinged standing stork with an elongated beak which is serrated on the inside. The stork's long legs each end in a ring which would accommodate the user's fingers. One of these rings generally has four claws attached to the base so that the stork can stand upright. The body is made in two pieces held together by the eye which is in fact a pin. By moving one's fingers in the rings on the feet, the beak can be opened and closed.

The most popular, and I think most likely attribution given to them, is that they were used as Ribbon Threaders or Pullers to facilitate the threading of ribbon through the eyelets on baby clothes. One can imagine them being most useful in accomplishing this rather finicky task. There are however other theories...

Although this select English collection is not totally representative of the genre, this form of tong is most commonly found in Germany and Holland where they are known as "Luiertang" Their purpose there is documented to have been either for the use by midwives for clamping the umbilical cord of a newborn or for picking up dirty nappies!

In the absence of any fixing mechanism to secure the forceps when closed it is doubtful that a midwife would have used these to clamp the umbilical cord following delivery. It just would not have worked?

It is perhaps feasible to imagine the Mistress of a well to do household, in the absence of a nearby maid, welcoming the presence of a pair of silver tongs to keep the soiled diaper at arm's length!

An attractive feature sometimes encountered is the cocooned baby wrapped in swaddling clothes on the inside of the stork's stomach, visible only when the scissors are open.

Another raison d'être was that they were placed on the mantel or chimneypiece to indicate that the mistress of the house was pregnant. The connections in folklore with Storks delivering babies and fertility are well documented.

An interesting addition is a snake entwined around the stork's neck and beak 'Aesculapius' style, so perhaps there are medical connotations, but at this point my research into these charming silver items came to a dead end and I wait to be enlightened.

Whatever their original practical purpose, this choice collection of mainly English pieces contains pairs by some of the best known Georgian, Victorian and early 20th century silver smallworkers and I encourage you to investigate them. Please see the Ribbon Threaders Category on the web site.


The images above were taken at St. Peter's Square in Rome. The 2005 photo was taken two years before Apple introduced the iPhone. The picture from 2013 demonstrates how the world has changed 8 years after the mobile device revolution.

The increasing importance of the Internet's role in connecting buyers and sellers is clear and the spiralling amount of business we are doing via the web site is testament to this.

With this in mind we are pleased to announce that we are spreading our wings and have "Gone Global" by signing up to exhibit on the prestigious American web site that is We hope this will bring our eclectic mix of English Collectables to an even wider audience.

Huge Victorian Silver Crystal Palace Vinaigrette Cased Pair Victorian Silver Salters' Company Master Salts George III Antique Silver Fox Head Snuff Box Edwardian Antique Silver Owl's Head Bookmark
Ribbon Threaders Wine Labels Caddy Spoons Card Cases

Apart from the little collection of silver Stork Ribbon Threaders, other recent finds include some fine additions to the Wine Label Category, a rare large size Victorian Vinaigrette depicting Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851, a pair of cased Salters' Company Master Salts, a nice George III Fox Head Snuff Box, a Sampson Mordan Owls Head Bookmark, new additions to the Caddy Spoon Category and an interesting collection of "Castle-Top" Card Cases.

In fact there are over 60 new items of stock uploaded this month, so hopefully there will be something for everyone.

I do hope that you will find this Newsletter informative and helpful and will allow us send it to you on a regular basis. I would welcome any feedback you may have, both positive and negative.

David W.A. Buck.
Steppes Hill Farm Antiques