A Silver Spoon at RPI

RPI’s Institute Archives and Special Collections department has a lot of cool things that you might not expect to find among our rare books, manuscripts, and Institute records.  We also have a variety of artifacts, some of which are well over a century old.  Our most recent acquisition in this category is a sterling silver spoon dating from the 1890s.

RPI silver spoon, circa 1891

This item came to us via ebay, and I’m particularly fond of its design.  I happen to love sterling, but this spoon is special more for what it represents than the material it’s made of.  The top of the handle depicts a transit level, the same item for which our (now defunct) yearbook was named.  Transits long represented Rensselaer due to the school’s strong association with civil engineering.

Below the transit, “RPI” and Troy” appear in a funky, flowing script, with decorative elements along the border.  The back of the handle provides useful information about the spoon’s origins.  It’s marked “STERLING” – no surprise.  “PAT-D88” indicates it was patented, although it isn’t clear what the 88 signifies.  It’s probably not the patent date.  The souvenir spoon craze in the U.S. didn’t begin until 1889 after a spoon with the likeness of George Washington was first produced. (There’s an excellent article about souvenir silver spoon collecting by PBS’s History Detectives which is readily available online.)

“F. W. Sim & Co.” also appears on the back of the handle.  This was a jeweler operating at 246 River Street, Troy, which I also discovered in a web search.  Even better, I found a series of Sim & Co. ads in RPI’s student newspaper, The Rensselaer Polytechnic.  The first ad appeared on April 4, 1890 and promoted the usual array of jewelry store products.  The following year a cryptic question was posted under the heading Polyisms:  “Have you sent her an R.P.I. spoon?” (March 21, 1891, p.151).  A few pages later, a quote from the Troy Times clarifies things:

The Rensselaer Polytechnic, March 21, 1893 (p. 155)

It isn’t clear if this spoon was ever a big hit, but the Poly carried ads for F. W. Sim’s souvenir spoons throughout the 1892-93 school year.  By the fall of 1893 the company returned to more generic jewelry advertisements, perhaps marking the demise of the RPI/Troy silver spoon.

F. W. Sim & Co. ads in the Polytechnic, June 22 and September 30, 1893

A Challenge…

While I was able to find out a lot about this antique spoon, one question has me stumped.  Why does the bowl have an indentation on each side?  Is this some unique piece of Victorian silverware?  Or are the indents just another flourish indicating that the spoon is a decorative object rather than an eating utensil?  If you know the answer (or would care to venture a guess) I’d love to hear from you!

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Commencement 1918


Rensselaer’s ninety-fourth commencement exercises were held on Wednesday May 1, 1918 in the ’87 Gymnasium. Bachelor degrees awarded included 30 in Civil Engineering, 22 in Electrical Engineering, 11 in Mechanical Engineering, and 8 in Chemical Engineering. One Master of Science in Chemistry was awarded. The commencement address was delivered by Edwin Wilbur Rice, Jr., President of the General Electric Company.


Due to the United States involvement in World War I, many members of the class left for military service either prior to graduation or immediately afterward.  For more information, check out our previous post on Rensselaer’s involvement in the war effort.


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Continuing Up the Hill: Campus Dormitory and the Rensselaer Student’s Association Clubhouse

Campus Dormitory: The Warren House, acquired with the 1905 purchase of the Warren estate property, was converted into a student dormitory in 1907 and remained the only campus housing until 1916. The house was officially named the Campus Dormitory by a resolution of the Board of Trustees in 1916. The Institute rented rooms to about thirty students. A caterer supplied meals and was paid directly by the students. The house was located in front of the present site of Lally Hall.

In 1935, after the construction of two new dormitories, the Board of Trustees decided to dismantle and remove the old Warren House. The only thing remaining of the building is the Continue reading

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Lacrosse Redux

With the 2018 Winter Olympic Games underway, this is a good time to highlight a recent acquisition in the Institute Archives and Special Collections: a lacrosse uniform worn in the XIV Olympiad in the summer of 1948!

A few months ago the son of an RPI lacrosse player donated his dad’s uniform consisting of a pair of shorts, a jersey (#23), and sweatpants.  These items were worn by Robert J. Webb, a midfielder on the team that competed in a demonstration game against English all-stars in the London Olympics.  (For information on that event check out our April 2008 and July 2012 posts.)

The jersey is particularly cool – instead of the usual “RPI” or “R” on the front, this one has “USA” emblazoned below the school letters.  All that was needed to convert the school colors to those of the nation were the addition of a blue neckband and blue stripes on the sleeves.  Voila – suddenly RPI represented the entire country!

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Van Rensselaer Family Bread and Butter Pudding

Every season prior to the break we publish a blog post to send you all off with some Rensselaer holiday history cheer. This year, we’ve honed in on the Van Rensselaer family recipe booklet published by Historic Cherry Hill, entitled Selected Receipts [Recipes] of a Van Rensselaer Family 1785-1835. One recipe that really spoke to me was Bread and Butter Pudding!

This is one of my favorite desserts, but I never really knew that much about it’s history aside from being notoriously known as a British poor man’s dessert. Seeing the recipe in this Dutch family’s history prompted me to do a little research and try my hand at baking Elizabeth Van Rensselaer’s (1799-1835) version.

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