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May 31, 2002

Silver nutmeg graters go on display at Wallace Museum

Learn how colonial Americans laced their punch with nutmeg, the most stylish of spices, at a captivating new display at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. “The Robert and Meredith Green Collection of Silver Nutmeg Graters,” featuring 100 examples of English and American nutmeg graters, opens May 31 in the museum’s Mary Jewitt Gaiser Silver Gallery.

This splendid collection, assembled by the late Dr. Green and his wife, Meredith, includes an assortment of fashionable English graters from 17th-century London and 18th- and 19th-century Birmingham to handsome 20th-century American graters designed by Gorham and Tiffany & Co. Colonial Williamsburg is represented in the display as well by the work of former master silversmith, William de Matteo, whose reproduction of a heart-shaped nutmeg grater is as charming as it is unique.

Mrs. Green bought the couple’s first nutmeg grater in Harpers Ferry, Va., as a birthday gift for her husband and to celebrate the publication of an article he had written on nutmeg poisoning. It was the beginning of a hobby that would last for more than 40 years. “It became the focus of many of our trips and gave us much delight when a new and unusual grater was discovered,” said Mrs. Green.

Nutmeg was used for centuries as a spice for food and drink, but it wasn’t until the end of the 17th century that the production of silver nutmeg graters came into vogue. At that time, fashionable Britons on both sides of the Atlantic began drinking warm beverages—tea, coffee and chocolate—and serving punch, which soon became the most popular mixed alcoholic drink of the period. Rum or brandy, enhanced by the addition of strained fruit, grated nutmeg and sugar, created a potent and tasty brew.

An exhibition catalog, “The Robert and Meredith Green Collection of Silver Nutmeg Graters,” written by exhibition curator and Colonial Williamsburg’s senior metals curator John D. Davis, will be published by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in association with the University Press of New England.

Highlights of the exhibition will include: a circa-1680 grater in the shape of lute; graters made of mounted cowrie shells (1680-1720); and a commemorative grater with a braid of hair encased in a glass top.

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Sophia Hart
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