Being fairly new to the antique industry I am always keen to learn about different pieces and their uses. How and why pieces were crafted certainly peeks my interest. That of the pap boat is no exception, when we received one in our inventory recently I went straight off to research. This is the history of the pap boat…
These ingenious pieces were designed for the purpose of feeding babies and invalids soft food and liquids. When I first saw some examples I noticed some were made with handles, which reminded me of a sauceboat. The handleless pap boats seemed similar in design to a bed pan. Upon further reading I realised I wasn’t the first in making these associations.
The pap boat has a ‘boat’-shaped form with a tapering lip and is often made without a handle. The type of pap boat a family had depended on what they could afford, ranging from very plain to highly ornamented. These small and shallow vessels were made from many different kinds of material such as silver, pewter, wood, glass or porcelain. Silver pap boats in particular were usually very lightly decorated if not completely plain; only the rim would normally be decorated.
What is Pap?
The word ‘pap’ is said to be of Scandinavian descent, taken from the sound a baby makes when its mouth is open and about to be fed. However, there is an argument that the meaning comes from the items primary use: replacing the ‘breast’ or ‘nipple’ in feeding. The vessels were common in households and in use from the late 16th century until the early 1800’s. At this point their use died out due to the invention of feeding bottles.
It is said that these vessels were originally used to hold a gruel-like substance. Typically, ingredients mixed in a pap boat and used for a feed were bread, flour, and water. However, the recipe could change to butter, milk and sugar depending on the families’ wealth. The pap feed was thought to be soothing and easy to digest. Also, if an infant was ill the medicine was easy to conceal inside. An early issue with these vessels was that they could not be sufficiently sterilised and therefore contributed to infant sickness.
Pap Boat Uses
Why these pieces were made isn’t as cut and dry as you would think. Yes they were made for feeding, but why exactly? Was it simply to help feeding an infant or invalid to help them recover from sickness? Some believe that it was made for when babies started eating more solid foods. Others think the pap boat was made due to a mother’s problem with breastfeeding, which has been recorded to have quite a negative effect on a new mother. Not having the capability to provide for your new born baby would be worrying, especially in earlier centuries when a child’s chance of survival was already tested. A mother not being able to do this for her child resulted in fear and worry as the extract below shows:
‘They all wondered to see him so fat and to take such notice – he came into the dining room [illegible] Porridge. Porridge pot and Boat as well – thank God he eats do’s everything so – that will I hope make him thrive’.
-Betsy Ramsden, clergyman’s wife, 1768.
We are very fortunate to currently have an antique sterling silver pap boat in our inventory. This item was made in 1820 in London, England by Rebecca Emes & Edward Barnard I. Sterling silver pap boats such as this one are becoming very difficult to locate, particularly in such exceptional condition. As mentioned earlier, this pap boat could have been owned by a wealthier family due to the impressive applied floral, foliate and shell decorated border. The body is plain and unembellished with full hallmarks to the underside of the lip. Such a piece would be an asset to any silver collector.
Resources: Lancashire Archives, Preston, DDX.666.1.
Louise Snowdon – Website Content Contributor / Sales Professional
Louise joined AC Silver with a passion for the world of antiquities and jewellery. Louise also assists the marketing team by representing the business on many social media outlets.