Monday, January 10, 2011

Recollection: A Silver Spoon from Duke Visconti

The Holiday Season is over. It is time to put all the decorations, cards and presents away. Along the years I have received many presents from family and friends. I have also been given some from other persons. When I came to the USA I received a lovely china cup from the president of the first company where I worked in San Francisco. Years later, after having worked at several part-time positions while my daughters were little, I had my first full-time job at a small company in Atlanta. The majority owner and president was an Italian, Duke Visconti di Modrone. His company owned a dozen “plantations” (meaning large crop farms) in Georgia and Florida. Because I spoke Italian and French I was hired as Office Manager for the small staff. At the time I only knew the name “Visconti” from the well-known Italian director Luchino Visconti. Below is the poster from one of his movies.

The Leopard” (Il Gattopardo) 1963 movie of Luchino Visconti di Modrone, Count of Lonate Pozzolo (1906-1976)

In the office I had seen a large illustrated book showing all the houses of the Viscontis, starting with one in the 1200s. I had not realized that the Viscontis were aristocrats of great lineage – they were an important Italian noble dynasty of the Middle Ages. Their history is long – the first well known Visconti was elected Pope Gregory the X (1271-1276.) Another descendant, Anna Visconti, was the mother of Pope Gregory the XIV (1590-91.) A cousin of this pope was a forefather of my employer, Duke Visconti di Modrone of Milan. From 1277 to 1500 the Visconti and Sforza families ruled the city of Milan in Italy. The biggest parts of the Gothic and Renaissance masterpieces were created during their rule.

Palace of the Marquesses Castelli, in Milan, Italy. This engraving shows Palazzo Visconti di Modrone in Milan, published around 1745.

This palace in Milan now houses the museum of modern art and the Duomo museum. The above information I had to find on my own as Duke Visconti was very self-effacing, kind and friendly. All the furniture in our office had been imported from Milan. My desk was made of dark wood and stainless steel in a very avant-garde style. The office was in a high rise building in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. I spoke Italian and French with the duke and other European aristocrats who visited him. It was a fun and enjoyable position. One Christmas he gave the ladies in our office (about 6 of us) a lovely marble photo frame. Another Christmas he gave me an antique silver spoon. We had a delicious catered Christmas luncheon with gourmet food – this was also the Duke’s birthday since he was born on December 25, 1927.

The silver spoon from Duke Uberto Visconti di Modrone, Marchese of Vimodrone with a later picture of him.

Later on I was surprised to be offered a position in a large corporation very close to my home. It was with a heavy heart that I gave up my work at the Duke’s company, but the Atlanta traffic was starting to be pretty heavy and it was more convenient to be closer to my home. His gift started me looking for other little silver spoons at flea markets and antique stores and I found several.

Click on picture to enlarge

Over the years, what started as a Christmas gift became a small collection. I have even added some sugar spoons to my collection as shown below

and just last week-end at the Atlanta Scott flea market, I found a jelly spoon, as shown below.

These spoons are an elegant addition to a cup of tea or with a book from the same era.

Click on collage to enlarge, then click on each picture to biggify

Looking for a history on these teaspoons I came upon a blog called “The Five O’Clock teaspoon” where the introduction says “Distinguished from the average teaspoon by its diminutive size, the five o'clock teaspoon was a requisite accoutrement for the afternoon tea ritual that became popular in Britain and America in the second half of the 19th century.”

The Cup of Tea, by Mary Cassatt, American 1844-1926

It is always satisfying to drink a cup of tea in the garden

Afternoon Tea, by Richard Miller, American 1875-1943

or indoor when the weather is not so kind.

Afternoon Tea, by Richard T Moynan, Irish, 1856-1906

I’ll never forget the silver spoon given to me by Duke Visconti and I cherish it. Sadly I found out that the Duke passed away on December 29, 2001. His family donated several millions of dollars to St Joseph Hospital in Atlanta in his and his late wife's memory, the Duchess Antonella. The Visconti Center for Robotics houses multiple, minimally-invasive robotic technologies for cardiac, urology, thoracic, gynecologic and general surgery procedures. It is considered the most comprehensive program of robotic technologies in the Southeast, if not in the whole country.
In my next post I’ll show pictures of another lovely Christmas present I received many years ago.

Tea, by Mary Cassatt, American 1844-1926


Note: Several months after publishing the above post I received an email from Duke Visconti’s daughter, Chiara. I was very surprised and so thankful that she would take the time to send me a note. Below is the email –


My husband came across your blog randomly yesterday and forwarded it to me.
I was very touched to hear the part about my father Uberto, and it makes me so proud to read years after his death lovely stories such as your own.
I just wanted to drop a line to say thank you, for keeping his memory alive in such a touching and sweet way, I greatly appreciated it.
He was a wonderful man and is very much missed.
Fond Regards,


Jojo said...

A lovely gift of friendship represented by a spoon. I loved reading about the legacy gift at St. Joe's.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love all of the paintings of tea. I have several teaspoons, from my mother-in-law, my grandmothers,and others that have found their way to my house. But I had never heard of the jelly spoon or the 5 o'clock teaspoon. How cute. Your collection looks fun.
And what a wonderful boss!

Linda Reeder said...

What a lovely little collection of spoons, and I love the little spooner you keep them in.
This is also a beautiful story of how you began to collect them, with that first gift from a remarkable man.

DJan said...

I am simply enchanted with your beautiful spoons, not to mention the elegant way you have portrayed them, especially the lovely cups and lace.

And it all started with a gift, a thoughtful and elegant gift, in keeping with your relationship with him. As always, VB, I am so glad to be uplifted with your recollections, and your posts.

Friko said...

what a wonderful idea: to tell of a small gift and then hang a whole, long blog on it with historical detail going off into several avenues.

very imaginative and a delightful insight into the personality of the teller of the tale.

Jeannette StG said...

Yes, I always thought that you had some noteworthy stories to tell about your life:) Hope to meet you sometime, Vagabonde!:)
This reminds me that my mother had a collection of silver spoons (in Holland they were 20-30 years ago quite common), but unfortunately I never took a pic of it. The Dutch teaspoons - as you might know - are still that size!
Love the painting of Marie Cassat:)

wenn said...

great collection!

Ann said...

Your spoon collection is just beautiful. What a lovely spoon you were given..a delicate and timeless gift! A treasure!

Pondside said...

I so enjoy your reminisces.
The mosaics were elegant, and I loved the illustrations, especially the Marie Cassat paintings.

Margaret said...

The detailed work of the handles is stunning. They are so elegantly shaped and wonderful to look at. And the sentiment behind the collection is heartwarming. Thanks for sharing.

Elaine said...

What a lovely collection and a delightful story on how you came to collect silver spoons. Every collection has a beginning somewhere, and the memories attached to where each item came from add to its enjoyment.

claude said...

J'ai du retard ce matin, je repasse plus tard. Je vais poster un petit paquet pour toi. J'espère qu'il va te parvenir car celui que j'ai posté 1 semaine avant Noël pour nos amis de SLC n'est pas arrivé et celui qui devait venir de là-bas ici non plus.

Fennie said...

There's a Mr Visconti who figures prominently in Graham Greene's 'entertainment' Travels with My Aunt.
He would I think fit well into the Visconti family history you describe here.

And as for spoons. You will doubtless be aware (or maybe not) of the spoof column on people talking about their spoon collections that appears fortnightly in the satirical magazine 'Private Eye.' It makes me want to ask 'has anything amusing ever happened to you in connection with your spoons,' which clearly it has.

They do seem to be a magnificent collection and thanks for sharing these fascinating insights with us all.

marciamayo said...

Another delight for the brain, the heart, and the eye.

claude said...

Quel joli post, Vagabonde !
JOlie histoire, jolies petites cuillères et belles peintures. C'est vraiment un régal !
Les dentelles et les tasses sont belles aussi.

the five o'clock teaspoon :: said...

Such a lovely collection you've shared, along with the sentiment behind the pieces. The flea-market-find jelly spoon is exquisite. And I so enjoyed the pictures of tea taking.

Lonicera said...

This post makes me feel wistful - I love beautiful things like this (eBay has been a wonderful source for replacing broken porcelain, which I particularly love) but after the jewellery I inherited was stolen 2 years ago I've tried not to think too much about things. I have a few nice pieces of cutlery - but few opportunities to use them.

Darlene said...

While the spoons are lovely I was more interested in your working for such an illustrious family. My, the history of the Duke's family is a story in itself. I would love to know the entire background of them.

It must have been very exciting working for such a person.

Vicki Lane said...

A lovely memory, a beautiful collection of spoons, and, as always, your choice of art is impeccable!

lorilaire said...

j'adore tes illustrations jointes à ton reportage !
Je suis fan de Mary Cassatt !
J'ai cherché des ouvrages sur elle, je n'ai rien trouvé de terrible, que des esquisses et pas grand chose sur ses magnifiques tableaux !
Bisous lori

Unknown said...

Beautiful post! Congratulations!
Happy New Year, my dear friend!

Deborah said...

You have led such an interesting life, Vagabonde! And like Friko, I love the way you can cerate a whole post out of a little gift. You never seem to be at a loss for topics, which I wish was the case for me.

Where and under what circumstances did you learn Italian? I was surprised, when in Genoa a few years ago, to find that French was not their second language. Being so close to the border, I would have thought so, but English was!

Lots of great historical tidbits here - and as for the Popes Gregory, I am reminded of the expression 'it's not a small world, it's an incestuous one.'

sweffling said...

What a wonderful way you have of putting a post together! It must take you hours and hours but is so worth it for the pleasure it gives your readers.
I like the way you link art, poetry, differing cultures, everyday life and small objects.
I envy you your facility with languages: my French is not bad but I would like to be able to speak Italian too.

Vagabonde said...

Jojo, alwaysinthebackrow, Linda Reeder, DJan, Friko, Jeannette, wenn, Ann, Pondside, Margaret Bednar, Elaine, Fennie, marciamayo, Lonicera, Darlene, Vicki Lane, Lele Batita, Deborah and Sweffling - I really cherish your comments and appreciate your reading my long posts. With the weather this week I have been out taking pictures and have not spent much time on my computer. I’ll try to visit your blogs soon. Thanks again for your kind comments.

Vagabonde said...

Claude and Lorilaire – Merci pour vos gentils commentaires qui me font beaucoup plaisir. Avec la neige de cette semaine je ne suis pas restée sur mon ordi. Je vous ferai une petite visite bientôt. Bises.

Vagabonde said...

The five o’clock teaspoon – Thank you for stopping by and most of all thank you for letting me use your notes on the teaspoon – I appreciate it.

Jeanie said...

What a handsome man the Duke was. And how generous! Your gifts are lovely, and its especially nice to see how he chose things so carefully -- no trip to the department store for a gift card. This makes me smile.

Collections. I wonder how many collections are started by one gift, one "find." Totally unexpected, accidental. Yet it strikes such a chord one must do as you did -- embark on a quest to add to it. Your collection is simply beautiful and how wonderful to know it was "started" by just one, very thoughtful and lovely gift.

Ginnie said...

You really can take a small seed as a starting point, Vagabonde, and build an entire garden out of it. It's just amazing! You really had had an incredible life. The book you could write.... I guess that's almost what you're doing here at your blog!

Ruth said...

It's a beautiful post, Vagabonde. I agree with Ginnie about how you plant a seed and grow it, the way the Count planted the silver spoon and you grew a collection. Just lovely and very meaningful, the way collections should be, I think. Your Count was a wonderful person. It's a joy to read about him, and to know you hold his memory and generosity in your heart so dearly.

I really love silver. I received a collection from an aunt, whose last name also began with "M" and so it was logical for me to get her service. I have odd pieces from my mother after she passed. Many are treasures because they are so familiar from my youth. One tiny tongs is Tiffany, and I prize it. It's perfect for sugar cubes at tea. Wouldn't I like to bring the tongs out for tea with you! I have a few pretty teacups.

Ruth said...

Maybe it's plain, but the reason it was logical for me to get her service was that there is an engraved "M" on the flatware. :)

Jeruen said...

I always loved reading your posts. I love the way you write a story that centers on a small theme, in this case, a spoon. I should say I appreciate your creativity!

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of working for the Duke on his farm in South Georgia for a couple of years. He was a remarkable man, always very polite, gracious to all. He always had one or two terriers with him and his wife walked her Champion Scotties almost daily. One day while checking the herd I found a pup that had strayed and returned it to the "big house" for her. Thank you for sharing.

The Duke compared my wife's driving to that of Mario Andretti!

Albert, aka Alberto, to The Duke

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