You are here
Table Forks by Sommé
Artist/Maker: Pierre-Nicolas Sommé (active 1760-1806)
Dimensions: L: 20 (7 7/8 in.); Total wt: 87.5 g (2 oz. 16 dwt. 6 gr.)
Location: Tea Room
Owner: Thomas Jefferson Foundation
Accession Number: 1958-3; 1945-8
Historical Notes: When Jefferson arrived in Paris in early August 1784, he quickly set about acquiring necessary household items. Among his first purchases were two groups of "table furniture." On August 21 he recorded in his memorandum book, "Pd. [for] 1 doz. spoons and 12 silver forks" and "1 doz. tablespoons" at the same price.1 Although different silversmiths may each have supplied Jefferson with a dozen forks and spoons, the heavy tablespoons and four-tined table forks have matching handles in the common fiddle and thread pattern. Most of the extant pieces bear the mark of Parisian silversmith Louis-Julien Anthiaume, who specialized in making spoons and forks and whose mark was first cited in the Paris registry in 1779.2 The forks made by Anthiaume are slightly longer than the single fork by Pierre-Nicholas Sommé.
According to a list written in 1788 or 1789, Jefferson included some of this flatware in his dinner canteen, the traveling box or boxes outfitted with all the accoutrements required for dining en route. The forks and spoons came to America with Jefferson's belongings and were in use at Monticello for the remainder of his life. Twenty-four silver forks and twenty French tablespoons appeared on Martha Jefferson Randolph's housewife list written about 1823; on her silver inventory of about 1833 she listed "24 forks" and "16 tablespoons (french)."3
The flatware, along with most of the family silver, was distributed among the four brothers in 1837. The monograms engraved on the handles of the forks were added sometime later. George Wythe Randolph wrote to his niece in 1855 about what he had done to the twelve forks by Anthiaume in his possession:
I have never ceased to regret that my name was put upon the forks and shall take your father's [Thomas Jefferson Randolph's] advice and have it scratched out provided it can be done without injury. The thing was done without reflection . . . . If the name can be taken off I shall have T.J. cast in its place.4
-Text from Stein, Worlds, 318
- 1. Thomas Jefferson, August 21 and 23, 1789, in MB, 1:559.
- 2. Pierre Kjellbert, "Toute l' Argenterie de Table Louis XVI," Connaissance des Arts 138 (August 1963): 17.
- 3. Thomas Jefferson, canteen list, c. 1789, Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, Massachusetts Historical Society; Martha Jefferson Randolph, housewife list, c. 1823, Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.; Martha Jefferson Randolph, silver inventory, c. 1833, ibid.
- 4. George Wythe Randolph to Mary B. Randolph, September 9, 1855, Edgehill-Randolph Papers, University of Virginia.