Thursday, October 3, 2019

Teaware History: The Mote Spoon

(not a mote spoon)

I love sharing the random tidbits of teaware history that I pick up in my reading, and today's post is on the mote spoon. The mote spoon is a tea accessory with an influential history. In fact, authentic mote spoons are so coveted that it's tough to find a real one.

not a mote spoon- but used like one

History Of The Mote Spoon
This little spoon was actually a very handy tool! Originally called a 'tea strainer spoon', mote spoons were used in the 17th and 18th centuries.  A 'mote' is a speck or tiny piece of something, and in this case a bit of tea leaf. As with many tea accessories, there is a bit of a debate on how it was originally used. 

Mote spoons were in use before tea-caddy spoons were created. They may have been used to lift the tea leaves out of the canister and into the pot. This would sift the tea dust away from the leaves, keeping the tiniest bits out of the teapot. The mote spoon had another important feature, a tapered pointy end, which was used to dislodge leaves from the teapot's spout. 

The second reported use was to scoop out errant tea leaves floating in the cup (the 'motes', if you will). In the 17th century, tea leaves were added to the pot and the brew poured directly into cups. Leaves were always escaping into the tea cups, causing the tea to continue steeping and taste bitter. The pierced mote spoons could easily scoop up the little rogue floaters, saving that delicious cup of tea. The tea was 'demoted', but in the best way possible.

It's tough to say if mote spoons were used to sift the dry tea leaves from the caddy, as the piercings could be quite small and wouldn't sift much of the tiny leaves out. But it would have been well suited to skim the leaves off of the poured tea.

How The Mote Spoon Evolved
According to master teaware historian Bruce Richardson, the mote spoon paved the way for the victorian tea strainer, which we still use today. In an interesting video, Mr. Richardson mentions:
...and they did away with the mote spoon because as you know you just put the strainer on top of your teacup and then pour your tea through the strainer and all those wonderful holes catch the any errant tea leaves or motes and demote your tea easily and then you place it back into this wonderful little catch basin that catches any errant drips and keeps your table nice and tidy

possibly a tea strainer

Collecting Mote Spoons- Beware Of Fakes!
Mote spoons can be difficult to find if you're interested in collecting them. Because of this, they have a high price attached and are often faked. Real mote spoons start at well over $100, and can be quite a bit more depending on rarity and decoration.

Looking through online auctions and antique sites, I found many mote spoons that ranged from possibly real, to definitely not. There are a few important things to look for if you are interested in collecting them.

(from top to bottom) spoon, fake mote spoon, genuine mote spoon (photo from ASCAS online)

Fakes are easily made by taking an 18th century silver spoon and piercing decorations into the bowl and re-shaping the handle to a point. The photo above gives a good example of a spoon, a faked spoon, and a real mote spoon. Faked spoons are (obviously) the size and length of a teaspoon. Mote spoons are generally longer, and the bowl of the spoon is also longer and more narrow than a typical teaspoon. The piercing on the spoon can also sometimes help determine if it's fake or not. But again, all of this is very difficult to authenticate.

I'm not sure if the spoon I have (and use in all the photos) is a tea strainer (it doesn't really fit over the cup at all), or more likely a fruit or bonbon spoon. It's definitely not a mote spoon as the bowl is rounded, and the end is flat, not tapered to fit into a teapot's spout. Whatever it is, I enjoy the way it looks.

So if you see something you like, just go for it. You should enjoy your collection, not just stress about authenticity. But if you're looking for the real thing, now you know what to look out for. Do you have an authentic mote spoon? I'd love to hear more about them!

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