Collecting Sterling Silver Nutmeg Graters, Nutmeg the Spice with a Sensational History
Sterling nutmeg graters make for a fascinating silver collection They can be a bit of a challenge to collect. Especially if you are looking for graters from the Georgian Era and you want to collect those that are whimsical in design. I never ceased to be amazed at the details that a quality silversmith could impart to items that were both useful in form and function yet amusing in design. Why nutmeg graters? Here are a few facts behind these interesting graters, their purpose, and the spice nutmeg in general.
The nutmeg (Myrstica fragrans) tree produces two spices. The spice nutmeg comes from the egg shaped seed of the tree and the spice mace comes from the covering of the seed. It was used to flavor both food and drink during the Roman Empire, Middle Ages, and the Renaissance Period. The Dutch and English fought for control of the "Spice Islands" in the year 1810. Banda ( the Islands now known as Indonesia was the main source for nutmeg at that time. It was expensive and highly desirable especially among the wealthy. If you have an interest in Culinary history, nutmeg is a captivating subject. And...yes, Manhattan (as in New York) was traded by the Dutch for Run Island and its nutmeg trees in 1677. Nutmeg was an prized commodity at the time and was hailed as a cure all for many health issues.
By the late 17th Century warm drinks were very popular on both sides of the “big pond”. Brits and Americans were drinking, coffee, tea, and chocolate. Warm punches became fashionable. They were a mixture of Brandy or Rum, strained fruit, and sugar. Nutmeg was used as the “final touch”.
To add that final touch; a grater was necessary to rasp the small brown seed. Small decorative silver “pocket sized” graters became a fashionable item. No different than fashionable trends today; the desire to match or exceed one's peers helped to fuel the creativity we see today in these items. Graters were created in a wide range of whimsical or novelty shapes. It is these novelty shapes that are most desirable and highly collected today. Egg shaped, melon shaped, strawberry shaped are just a few of the creative designs used. A small grater is located inside along with space to store the nutmeg. Graters were also created using other materials such as coquille nut and enamel to name a few.
An egg shaped Georgian nutmeg grater I sold a few years ago is pictured below and the top picture of the rectangular grater with canter corners sold recently. The egg shaped contained a grated with a star design.