1840s Silver Walnut Nutmeg Grater John Taylor & John Perry of Birmingham A1201

Gorgeously engraved with spiral details as well as the name of its owner, Sarah Burdette, this article of great utility and beauty bespeaks the value of nutmeg among the gentry and its universal desirability in cooking recipes and to flavor alcoholic beverages.

1 3/8″ x 1 5/8″.


“Nutmeg graters originate from seventeenth century England. The earliest graters for nutmeg (known before 1650) were fitted inside the lids of lignum vitae wassail cups or were incorporated within spice tureens for the tables of the ultra-wealthy. Before long, delicate silver graters were carried in the pockets of the gentry, who also toted luxurious “traveling sets” of tableware, sometimes containing a nutmeg grater.

Nutmeg became popular among the upper class who flavored their 17th and 18th century alcoholic beverages, such as punch, “cyder,” pale wines and ales. The spice was consumed both medicinally and as a culinary delight. The first pocket nutmeg graters (Circa 1660-1725) were constructed simply as a cylindrical silver grater housed inside a tubular silver case. By the eighteenth century, fashion trends influenced the form and functionality of the nutmeg grater. Catering to the affluent, novel pocket graters were created in an ever increasing variety of shapes and styles, constructed in silver, gold, ivory, silver-form brass, Battersea enamel or exotic wooden mosaics. Also during this period, simple primitive nutmeg graters for domestic use were made from wood, sheet iron and tin.

By the nineteenth century, the Dutch monopoly had long declined and so too did the high price for nutmeg. Before 1850, cooking instructions routinely called for measurements as “a scrape of nutmeg,” “a quarter of a small nutmeg,” “an atom of nutmeg,” “slices of nutmeg,” “take three scrapes nutmeg;” indications that nutmeg was freshly ground at the time of use. The study of published Mid-Victorian and American Civil War cookbooks shows that approximately one out of five recipes contained nutmeg as an ingredient. The spice was used in everything from baked apples and pumpkin pie to lamb chops and mulled wine. Tin and woodenware spice canister sets, common to every household, bore labels for contents of “ginger, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, mace and nutmeg.” A plain grater was often conveniently contained within many of these tin units. During the second half of the nineteenth century, an array of patented mechanical laborsaving devices for nutmeg came into fashion.

from an article by A E Klopfer.