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Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate: Consuming the World 
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Coffee, tea, and chocolate were all the rage in Enlightenment Europe. These fashionable beverages profoundly shaped modes of sociability and patterns of consumption, yet none of the plants required for their preparation was native to the continent: coffee was imported from the Levant, tea from Asia, and chocolate from Mesoamerica. Their introduction to 17th-century Europe revolutionized drinking habits and social customs. It also spurred an insatiable demand for specialized vessels such as hot beverage services and tea canisters, coffee cups and chocolate pots.
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Rococo Coffee Pot

Collecting Elegance from the Rails
by Bob Brooke


There was a time when eating dinner aboard a train was an experience. Fine table linen, topped with elegant china and silverware were the norm, but then along came Amtrak and the dining experience became nothing more than passengers going to the food trough for some sort of sustenance while traveling. And like the airlines, the railroads succumbed to economics and the changes in passenger’s eating habits.

But let’s take a step back in time to those days of yesteryear when fine silver flatware and hollowware graced the dining car tables.

Railroad silver, which is comprised of hollowware such as pitchers and teapots, as well as flatware like knives and forks, is unique because it attracts sterling silver and railroadiana collectors alike.

Early rail passengers never dreamed that one day they would take meals in dining cars at tables covered with white linen tablecloths set with silver and china. At that point, trains didn’t even have dining cars let alone any sort of food service. Dining cars, even in their early primitive form wouldn’t appear for another three decades.

Instead patrons rode the rails on uncomfortable wooden benches, without sleeping or eating arrangements of any sort.

In the 1840s and 1850s, once the novelty of rail transportation wore off, there was a push by consumers to improve the riding experience. George Pullman, a Chicago contractor, was at the forefront of this movement. One of his innovations was the sleeping car. On January 10, 1853, the first meal was served on a train when the Baltimore and Ohio (B & O) Railroad contracted a caterer for its trains between Baltimore, Maryland and Wheeling, West Virginia.

A decade later, passengers no longer had to scarf down meals on train stops or bring their own food aboard as the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad unveiled dining cars.

However, these early dining cars were far from luxurious, but after the Civil War the quality of the train-dining experience improved dramatically. In 1868, Pullman rolled out Delmonico’s. Named after the famous New York eatery, it was the first fancy restaurant on a train—the Golden Age of train travel had begun.

Railroads promoted dining cars to would-be passengers as being fancier than New York City hotels. Travelers were often invited to choose among five-course meals with dozens of options. Interestingly, the dining cars consistently operated at a loss because of their extravagance, but they were seen as necessary part of turning train travel into a “Grand Tour” experience.

Just sitting in the dining car became an adventure in itself. There was often a romantic aspect when two strangers shared a table and perhaps a bottle of wine. Who could forget the intimate dining car scene with Cary Grant, on the 20th Century Limited, in the Alfred Hitchcock film, “North By Northwest?”

Of the many categories for collectors of railroad memorabilia none captures the golden age of travel more than dining car objects. The good news is that there are many pieces still available at reasonable prices.

Not surprisingly, the silverware used in these rolling dining rooms was only the finest. Many train companies commissioned some of the top silver manufacturers to produce their flatware, including International Silver Company, Meriden Britannia, Smith Silversmiths, Gorham Manufacturing, and Reed and Barton. Though some railroads had their own lines of flatware and hollowware, most just ordered what the manufacturers produced for fancy hotels and stamped their logos on them.

Railroad silver was actually “Nickel Silver,” an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc made by many companies. Meriden Britannia Company made most of the early pieces. After 1898, the company became a subsidiary of the International Silver Company. Between 1900 and 1930, the Gorham Manufacturing Company and Wallace Company produced railroad silver. It was also made by Reed & Barton and Smith Silversmiths. The English firm of Harrison & Howson, of Sheffield made pieces for the Santa Fe railroad.

Today collectors look for cocktail shakers and coffeepots with Union Pacific logos, platters and cutlery with the Great Northern Railway’s monogram, and food warmers with Southern Pacific insignias. These stamps and impressions, which served as advertisements for the rail companies at the time, make railroad silver easily identifiable for collectors today.

Railroad silver can also be identified by its weight. Though silverware manufacturers designed these pieces to look handsome, they also had to be durable, so railroad silver was often very heavy. For example, much of the hollowware made for railroads had handles that were silver-soldered to the main portion of the piece.

Collectors of railroad silver sometimes try to accumulate entire sets, which can be difficult because rare pieces such as cheese scoops, menu holders, and sugar tongs weren’t manufactured in the same quantities as knives, forks, and spoons.

Additionally, the more intricate the details on a piece of railroad flatware and hollowware, the more collectible it becomes. For example, those with curving handles or unique designs such as a fleur-de-lys are more desirable than pieces with more basic designs. And while the era of collectible railroad silver dates from the 1880s all the way through the middle of the 20th century, the early pieces tend to be more prized.

All railroad silver is marked and included the initials, name or emblem of the railroad. Services could consist of as many as 30 pieces. Some of the more unusual pieces were corn holders, a toothpick stand, cocktail shakers, and crumb trays.

The shapes may have been plain and heavy but the designs were often quite elegant with engraved motifs. Silver for the Burlington routes had fluting and vase finials on the covers of coffeepots and teapots. It is marked with raised initials “B.T.” When it was made by the Mulholland Bros., Inc. of Aurora, Illinois it is marked, “C.B. & Q., Mulholland Bros. and with similar marks.

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