News-Antique.com - Mar 19,2009 - This story ran in the 3-20-09 edition #690 of the collectors newsletter.
I read about mango forks in a Miss Manners column, back in 1992 or 1993. I had started teaching etiquette a few years earlier and used odd utensils to keep kids, who were not used to eating at set tables but from fast food bags, interested in utensils and place settings. (Parents couldn't understand why their kids didn't know how to behave at wedding receptions and nice restaurants, but they weren't exposed to these tools of the table.) So I always collected the oddest I could find.
Other than Miss Manners description, I could find nothing in all my old books on silver or etiquette, other than occasional mentions of mango forks. Osterberg's book "Sterling Silver Flatware for Dining Elegance" mentions that companies produced mango forks, but that none were available for photos. I had to go strictly by the description from that old Miss Manners column as to what one looked like. I finally found one, listed as an "unknown fork" in a junk/thrift shop in 1998. I made phone calls to find out its value, but someone at Sotheby's, a tabletop specialist at Butterfield's, the staff at Silver Queen, and several employees at Replacements, all told me mango forks didn't exist, though I was clearly in possession of one at the time.
It wasn't until I found one buried in the back of Warman's book on silver in 2005, that I had an actual photo. By mid- 2006 I had found another listed on Ebay as a "cheese fork". I wondered how many others were out there, listed as unusual things. I found them listed as having some crazy purposes; Snail fork, pickle fork, chicken fork. One listing read, "Obviously for decorative purposes only, as one can't use it for food." I also started to notice a pattern with them. Several had windmills and Dutch designs, so I started Googling all sorts of antique websites and Ebay in the Netherlands. I found them all over the Netherlands listed as, of all things, cake forks! By May of 2007, I wound up in Amsterdam for 10 days to find out why they believe their forefathers made them for cake. I still haven't gotten an answer that makes sense.
Mango forks were (and still are) produced in Mexico, Germany, Spain, France, Cuba.... all over. They were a Victorian dining implement that was created for a delicacy that only the wealthy could afford at the time, or was thought to appreciate. The Dutch are the only of the forks that are highly decorative, while the others are very utilitarian looking. I am currently finishing a book on my collection of forks. I lost count at 150, and still buy them when I see them. Maura Graber -Director/The RSVP Institute of Etiquette-Ontario, CA -800 891-RSVP