Flummoxed by Flatware?

2 03 2009

Dear Alex,
I just inherited some beautiful silver serving spoons from my uncles.  They are about 8 inches long, beautifully pierced and have a heavy weight.  I think I have fallen in love.  Do you know where I can find information on their patterns, their makers and their usage?

Flatware Virgin

Dear Flatware Virgin,

Alex knows first hand the joys of a perfectly balanced piece in the hand.  Of flatware, of course…

Once you feel that beguiling rush of craftsmanship, heft, value, design and function tightly molded into a stiff package like a Beckham underwear ad…there is no turning back. Man the tarnish cloth!  Here are some tips to get you from virgin to collector in no time:

First, let’s assume for simplicity that you are dealing with American sterling silver or silverplate.  Like men, many countries make their own silver flatware, so it can become confusing when you are trying to find the maker/company by looking at the hallmark (the stamp on the back of your spoon) and you don’t know the nationality…so for now, these are red-blooded, All-American spoons.  Turn them over (gently, but with anticipation) and admire the stamp/hallmark on the back of the spoon.

Here is an example from my own collection:

Gorham Hallmark from Hanover 1895

The hallmark consists of a lion, anchor and G, followed by the word STERLING.

The first book that will help you equate the mark to the maker is the Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers by Dorothy T. Rainwater.  Match the hallmark to one in the book.  My mark is the American firm Gorham’s mark.  Many sterling silver pieces have the word “sterling” stamped on them–likewise many plate pieces have “plate” or “ep” [electroplate] or “epns” stamped on the back.  But many do not, so it’s best to do your due diligence to uncover whether the piece is silver or silverplate.  You will need to know this for your next phase.

Once you have discovered the maker [in our example, GORHAM], you can then proceed to identify the pattern.  Here are two indispensable books that will assist you:

Sterling Flatware: An Identification and Value Guide by Tere Hagan

Silverplated Flatware: An Identification and Value Guide by Tere Hagan


These invaluable references have line drawings of all the patterns from 19th century to the present.  Go to your maker/company–e.g. Gorham, then slowly work your way through the drawings until you spot your pattern.

Another great online resource is Replacements.  You can find your maker and search through the pictures in the picture gallery of each pattern (this works for china and crystal too!)

There is palpable tension and excitement in this process.  Enjoy it.  Savor it.  Let the pattern consume you, and you it.  Did you find it?  Huh?  Did you?  Did…you…find IT?

Hold those 8 inches, and allow yourself to relax.  As per our example, you now know the manufacturer is GORHAM SILVER CO., the pattern is HANOVER and it was first released in 1895.

If your spoon is a basic shape (tablespoon, for example), you’re done.  However, if your spoon is a more exotic shape…what did they use those 8 inches of fun for?

Look no further than Sterling Silver Flatware for Dining Elegance by Richard Osterberg.  Mr. Osterberg takes you on a visual flatware safari explaining everything from bouillon spoons to strawberry forks to saratoga chip and bon bon servers.  And there are lots and lots of photos!  WITH CHINA PLACE SETTINGS!  AND MEASUREMENTS!

Do you feel light-headed?  Are you swooning with anticipation?  Randy for ramekin forks?  Frisky for fish knives?  Aching to run your fingers over a sardine tong?  Horny for horseradish spoons?  Are you f*ckn hot for a chocolate muddler?

Skip that cold shower.  Live your passion!  And let us know how you make out!


My Worst Experience on Ebay Ever! — continued

24 08 2008

All quiet on the ebay front for one day.

The following day, the voice of reason appears in the guise of “my husband.”

This is concerning the cups. I had a talk with my husband tonight. He has read what is going on. The package is due to get here tomorrow. My husband has said that if the cups aren’t broken when they get here, to take a picture of them and send that to you. Then if your still interested, all you will have to do is pay shipping and insurance to get them. That however all depends on what happens tomorrow.

We must congratulate “my husband” for a brilliant, diplomatic maneuver.  I hope he works for the State Department.  He has obviously has had years of training in the trenches…

“My husband,” realizing that the cups are probably, as I said, broken, has allowed his wife to save face (“you’re right, honey.  He’s a jerk.  How dare he question you putting 3″ wide mugs in a 3″ wide box!  We’ll show him.  You just send him a picture.  That’ll get him.”), yet subtly acknowledging the fact that indeed, in all likely-hood, a sane person would know the difference between the little charming tinkle sound of popcorn moving in a cup to the sloshing, grating, crashing sound of broken pottery.

And now, gentle readers, the fateful ARRIVAL OF THE BOX!

The set of cups arrived today. Unfortunately one of them was completely smashed. The other one only had a broken handle which we will be fixing. It broken in 3 places, the cup itself in ok. I am very sorry for this happening and come Monday I will reimburse your money. If the other cup interests you please let me know and I can work something out with you on it. Otherwise after Monday you won’t receive anymore emails from me. Again I am sorry for this.

Eating Crow…?

We debated how to respond to this…obviously the wife does not like to receive emails, since she forbade me to email her and has projected her own loathing of the ubiquitous email with her, “you won’t receive any more emails from me,” as if I too, shared her dislike of the poor email.

Naturally we would like to give her a comeuppance, however it seems “my husband” has already taken care of that.  And she apologized.

We feel sorry for this woman; her fury at life swirling around the “impeccable packaging” of two mugs, purchased for $5.50, that a stranger dared to question.  Perhaps her existence, like her packaging, is perfect on the outside but shattered on the inside?

And so, we decided to keep things short and simple:

No thank you.  The refund will suffice.

My Worst Ebay Experience EVER!

22 08 2008

Happening as we speak.  I knew there were crazy people out there, but this is getting really scary.

I’ve been a member of ebay for 10 years with 100% positive feedback.  And to be fair, the seller ALSO has 100% positive feedback, which is why this is so bizarre.

The purchase:

Two 5″ Mugs bought for $5.50 with a shipping/handling total of $12.25.  Very reasonable.

I was thrilled, because these are hard to find and I have a set and two are broken.  So imagine my ecstatic state when I sniped these, won them, and awaited their arrival to take their place amongst their long lost bretheren.

The seller shipped very quickly.  A good sign.  Anticipation mounting.  The postman arrives on Wednesday morning and I barrel to the door with glee.  This is my postman who comes in the mornings and delivers packages.  I open the door, eyes wide (I have already made room for the additions and am debating…should I really throw out the others…?) and he looks at me with a sad, douleful face.

The box he is holding is a standard priority USPS mail box, about 16x12x3.  He shakes the box.  The horrible sound of broken shards travelling up and down the box reaches my ears.  He says, “this is glass, right?”  Another awful tilt back and forth.  I’m in shock.  I nod.  He says, “it’s broken.”  I wither.  He tilts the box back and forth again.  “You should just not accept delivery,” he says.  I take the box and perform the tilt.  No question–the weight of the broken ceramic travels up and down, back and forth…  My dreams have turned to shards.  I hand it back and he whisks it away so I don’t have to bear witness any longer…

Now, the fury begins…the mugs are 5″ tall and 3″ wide…were it me, I would have packed them in a box wider than 3″ and wrapped them in bubble wrap and completely surrounded them with popcorn.  MYYYY MUUUUGGGGGSSSSS that I have waited years to appear on ebay…

I rush to the computer and send this:

The box arrived this morning and was not properly packed. Everything was smashed. I refused the shipment and it is being returned to you. Please credit my account. I am very upset about this as they were part of a set and I would have gladly paid more for proper packaging.

Yes, a tad emotional, but still professional, given the circumstances, I think.

The answer:

As soon as it arrives and I see what has happened since I had it properly packaed. I don’t know how that happened since this is a first. And I sent it out priority mail so you would have it fast.

A reasonable response which calms me down.  I then respond:

OK. I didn’t even open the box, which showed no signs of damage. I would say the box was way too small for the mugs. They should have been wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a larger box with popcorn to keep from moving and away from the sides. It looks like pressure on the box just crushed them. I’m only upset because these are very, very, very rare and hard to find, so I was particularly looking forward to their arrival.

OK.  Still upset about the loss, but explaining the emotion.  As I was writing this however, I received another email:

Question for you, how would you know that the package was not properly packed if you rrefused the package? And how do you know everything inside was smashed if you refused the package? Please explain that?

The gauntlet has been picked up.  Have I not ears?

Ummm, how about rattling, broken, ceramic when you shake the box? It was so obvious, the postman asked me if I didn’t want accept as he shook the box.

And now, the beginning of the not so subtle twist!

Ok, if you didn’;t open the box, what you heard rattling around inside was poopcorn. So you basically sent me back something that wasn’t even bad? Yes, both cups were wrapped in bubble wrap and fitted in the box with no problem. I had popcorn both in the bottom, in between and on top. The box wasn’t damaged or anything? You should have at least opened the box to look before judging. You are sending back perfectly good cups. So now what do you want to do? Pay for it to be shipped to you again?

So now it’s MY fault?!  Amazing!

The rattling was not popcorn. But if the cups are fine, I will happily pay to ship the cups again with insurance, priority.

And now the twist of the dagger…

I tell you what, on the 25 when the money clears my paypal account I will refund your money and I will keep the cups since you don’t seem to have a clue. You could have at least opened the box to see what was up instead of assuming that the stuff was broken. I don’t have the time or energy to deal with someone who doesn’t have a clue. Sorry, you lost out this time.

So now I’m being PUNISHED!  Remember, this is a $12.25 transaction!  Before I could even think of responding, I receive another:

Incsase you didn’t know, it’s possible for the popcorn to rattle in the cups. I know because I heard it when I had it packaged. You should have just checked when you had the package. Sorry, the cups will stay with me. And please no more emails.

Nya, nya, nya, nya, nya!  I’m now in more of a state of shock as to the exchange than the broken mugs.  I do not respond, as per my “instructions,” and try to forget about it.

Today, Friday, I receive this unbelievable missive:

This is concerning the set of cups. Because of you refusing the package, it’s still in Bethpage, NY. It’s been returning there since you refused it. I am going to make one thing clear now, if I have to pay extra for it coming back here, that will be money that doesn’t go back to you. And since this package keeps going back to Bethpage, NY, something is bound to happen to it. Yes, I’m upset that you pulled this. I have been watching this package ever since your message to me. So I hope nothing gets damaged while it’s coming here, if it ever finally reaches here. Just letting you know now.

FOR $12.25!!!!!!  So now, when the mugs arrive in shards, in which state they already are, it will be because I SENT THEM BACK!  We are clearly in the land of the deranged.  Keep the 12 bucks, baby.  You need it for a shrink more than I.

To be continued…

Best Ways to Meet Relationship Material in New York City: Link Depth

13 01 2008

It’s all about link depth. The greater your network link depth, the greater your chances of meeting the guy or gal of your dreams.

“Where are all ‘the good people?” If there was a whine bottled in New York, this would be the label.

“The good people:” def. not jerks, assholes, gold-diggers, freaks, ripoff artists, losers, trust-fund brats, skanks, slackers, man-whores, sluts — i.e. everyone you meet and date.

Gay, Straight, Bi — it doesn’t matter. Most people who form relationships meet through friends of acquaintances of friends of acquaintances of…well, you get the idea.

New York, despite it’s dense population, is a notoriously difficult place to get to ‘the Honey Bunnies,’ because they are never (or rarely) at the bar, gym, or cafe when YOU’RE there. They tend not to follow regular hive rules.

The fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to increase your link depth is to volunteer. New York City has hundreds of not-for-profit organizations that need your help. And can help you.

However, do not plan to meet the ‘Honey’ of your dreams at said organization. This is only the first step. You will be working for a good cause and you will be meeting people outside of your current network. Once you get to know your co-volunteers and they get to know how wonderful you are –a real honey — drop the bomb. Yes, lower the eyes, tilt the head at that slight angle showing restraint and modesty, and simply say, “I’m single.”

No true New Yorker will let those words lay fallow and unpunished. New Yentas are best of breed. They will rush to their address books, filter ‘single’ and voila (after all, YOU’RE a catch–you volunteer with them.) Let them set something up — coffee, drinks, a party, whatever. Your network is expanding and the larger the link depth, the greater the possibilities you will meet that ‘honey.’ Snatch him/her up immediately — sweetness is a cherished commodity in this city. And once you’re a couple, don’t forget to help a fellow New Yorker in need.

Some places to start:

Volunteer NYC

New York Cares

New York City Parks

Volunteer Match

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

Cat Got Your Cough

12 01 2008

Dear Alex: My cat seems to cough a lot and at first I thought it was hairballs but now I’m not so sure. I’d take her to the vet, but they’re so expensive and I’m a grad student! Any idea what’s wrong with her?

Cat Cough Katy

Dear CCK,

Your poor baby may be suffering from feline asthma. Unfortunately, you MUST take her to the vet and get her checked out. This is a serious disease. I have some personal experience with this, as my cat has feline asthma. Luckily, his is not too severe and is controlled by a small dose of methylprednisolone every other day. But it is horrible when he starts to cough. An excellent site on the subject is Fritz the Brave.

Please take your cat in for a check-up as soon as possible. This can be life threatening. Perhaps there is a clinic near you that will charge lower rates. Good Luck.


add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

The Middle Name

10 01 2008

Dear Alex,

What does the “G” stand for in “Alexander G DeWitt?”

Concerned Reader Addressing Formal Invitation



Grizzly. Thank you for asking.

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank

Buying a House With Friends and Other Strangers

9 01 2008

Dear Alex: Me and my friend (not romantically involved) want to buy a house together, fix it up and rent most of it out. My father says never to do business with friends, but I don’t know how else I could afford to buy something. Any advice?

Gotta Invest

Dear GI,

Buying and renovating a property is a huge undertaking — it tests the mettle of any relationship; friend, family, partner, or spouse. I know so many stories that have ended in disaster from lack of forward planning.

My advice — treat it as a business transaction with a stranger. And plan ahead if the partnership were to break up.

If you and your friend are truly serious, meet with a lawyer and discuss responsibilities and all scenarios: Are you both managing the renovation and management of the property equally? If not, how should you split the income? What happens if one of you gets married and moves? Or dies? What is the buyout clause if you call it quits? What happens when the contractor disappears? What happens when the renters don’t pay?

Basically, it’s like planning your will, pre-nup, and divorce, before you even start. If your friend says, “Oh, we don’t have to do that. We’re friends.” Walk away. You’ll have another opportunity.


add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!Add to Blinkslistadd to furladd to ma.gnoliaadd to simpyseed the vineTailRank