The style & age of sugar tongs is perhaps the most complex to address. We can never be exact about date ranges for a particular style but there are some good generalities that can be followed. Before looking at it across the whole of the UK, there are some important regional variations to be aware of.


Scottish sugar tongs have some particular features about them that make it usually very clear that they were "made in Scotland" even when there are no marks, or it is difficult to attribute the tongs to a maker. Particular features to look out for are:

A great many are fiddle pattern. The pattern tends to be that the wide part of the arms is quite long, with the inward break being nearer to the bowls than with English work;


Scottish tongs are very often concave, curving inwards, sometimes over the whole of the wide parts of the arms, sometimes just under the bow;


Bowls will very often be of a shell pattern;


In general terms Scottish silver is often much heavier than English work. The silver is thicker and the tongs are generally bigger and bulkier;


Marks will usually be punched at the bottoms of the arms.

These comments are really only generalities, but they are a good clue when trying to identify tongs.


Irish sugar tongs also have some particular features about them that differentiate them from other regions. Particular features to look out for are:


They are almost always longer than English tongs, usually about 6 inches long;


They are very often bright cut, peculiarly often with the Irish “star” or similar motif at the tops of the arms;


They almost always have a shell style bowl, smaller and more pointed than with Scottish tongs;


They are almost always marked underneath the bow;


They will often have concave arms or a concave bow.

Again, we must be careful not to be dogmatic about the style differences, but they do often help with identifying tongs.


It is often said that provincial work was not as good as London work. Do not be fooled by this. Some of the provincial makers delivered exceptional quality work, sometimes much better than some of the London makers. Having said this, it can also be the case that provincial work can be of poorer quality. You therefore cannot go by quality when trying to determine whether the tongs are London made or provincial. In truth the only real way is to examine the hallmarks. Before taking these as verbatim, please be aware that there is always differing expert opinion about a number of factors, and even now, we still find examples of work that changes our opinions of when particular styles came into being, nevertheless, some rough guides:

Scissor style sugar tongs, (or sugar Nips, or Tea tongs), were prevalent from about 1720 to 1770. For a much more thorough examination of these tongs, see Dr. David Shlosberg's excellent book "Eighteenth Century Silver Tea Tongs".

Following these came the cast tongs. We believe the earliest date for cast tongs is somewhere between 1760 and 1765. For an example of the earliest cast tongs see William & John Deane. Cast tongs were not always the pierced type, sometimes they had the appearance of the standard bow style tongs, see the first pair by William Turton. These will generally be dated around 1775 to 1785. The latest date we know of for true Georgian cast tongs is 1795, see this pair by Samuel Godbehere & Edward Wigan. The Victorians also made copies of the style of Georgian cast tongs, (perhaps even using the same mouldings!);

The next style to look at, also generally dated between 1775 and 1785 are the "concave" style, made from a single piece of silver, but with the arms being very concave. There are far fewer of these to be seen as at around the same time the standard bow shaped tongs stated to come about. There is a good example of a pair by Stephen Adams I.

We then move on to Bright Cut engraving. There is much debate over when this first came in, but best guesses suggest around 1770, but it could be slightly earlier or later. Bright cut engraved sugar tongs were very much the norm between about 1775 - 1780 through to about 1810.

From about 1800 onwards, we start to see the introduction of Fiddle Pattern and the additional patterns that were die stamped. This date is sometimes put a little earlier than this, but they certainly did not proliferate until after about 1805 - 1810. Some early examples of the start of these patterns can be seen by William Eley & William Fearn.

As bright cut engraving started to fade, tongs were much more frequently made completely plain and were often larger, bulkier and heavier. This can be seen from about 1805 onwards. From about 1820, bright cut engraving had almost disappeared and we see almost nothing but fiddle pattern and the various die stamped patterns. For a much more complete discussion on this see Ian Pickford's book "Silver Flatware English, Irish and Scottish 1660 - 1980".

After giving that general flavour of the styles and date ranges, I would add that these can only ever be rough guidelines. The hallmarks are the only real way to be sure of the date of a pair of tongs.

The best way to have information about Georgian Silver Sugar Tongs always at your finger-tips is to buy the book. It is available from this web-site, simply click the picture!