Undoubtedly, the early collectors greatly admired their spoons just as antique spoon collectors today, for they had such an affection for the simple things in life and an effort to display and honor them, such that it prompted the design and making of antique spoon racks to house their most prized possessions. Some early collectors may have displayed their spoons upon spoon racks on the kitchen wall, while others may have given them a more prominent position among the china in the parlor.
The dating of the first antique spoon racks is difficult to determine. Although it is likely that some spoon racks were being used in the late seventeenth century, it is generally adopted that their popularity and use in America was consistent mostly throughout the eighteenth century, with the use of spoon racks decreasing by the turn of the nineteenth century.
The majority of early American spoon racks were found on the Maine coast, usually in areas settled by Dutch and Swedes, along the Hudson River, in and around northern New Jersey, and along the Delaware. It is often difficult to distinguish between the antique spoon racks of the Dutch and Swedes because of the similarities in design. Most all spoon racks of this era are designed for twelve spoons, most likely intended to house pewter spoons. If the rack consists of three bars, then there were four spoon slots in each, and likewise, if there were only two bars, then there were six spoon slots in each. Although not as prevalent among the English, the early German settlers also had a passion for their decorated utensils and chose to display them in wooden spoon racks.
The woods used in these early spoon racks included whitewood (Connecticut) and poplar (beyond New England) both of which are well adapted to simple carving. Spoon racks are a very distinct and important element of early furniture making in the Americas, and representative of the carving and painting designs of the time. The earliest examples are for spoon display only, but later period designs of antique spoon racks display the spoons above, but also include a box at the base of the rack to house knives. The absence of the knife box on the earlier examples may be due to the fact individuals normally carried a pocket knife with them at all times to be used for various reasons, including use at the table. The fork was the last utensil to be civilized, at which time the knife box was also used to house forks.
The style of carving found in the Dutch spoon rack designs represents an influence of Scandinavian motifs. A recurring design element in these antique spoon racks is very crude carvings of a spiral wheel carved with a V-shaped tool. These spiral wheel designs are often accompanied by star shaped carvings. Some have a Rising sun motif at the top, distinguished from the full-circle sunburst. Many Scandinavian spoon racks have an almost lace-like casement, while older Dutch racks are found with several coats of paint, and often tend to have greatly obscured details.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, silver spoon vases were used to store and display spoons, and by 1870 revolving
silverplated spoon racks had become popular. Subsequent designs incorporated various other utilitarian items into the spoon rack, such as a vase for flowers, a tray for serving, a sugar bowl, or a bell for summoning the servants. Wood carved spoon racks continued to be used through the early twentieth century and even today. But, antique spoon collections today are frequently stored in decorative spoon cabinets and display cases, often behind a protective glass.