Fish slice, 1760-1770
Photo by Peter Harholdt, 2004
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Photo by Peter Harholdt, 2004

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The utensil is a wedge-shaped or triangular sheet of silver: its narrow end is a rounded point, its wide end is cut in a shallow crescent and finished with a serpentine edge. The flat sheet or blade is pierced overall in regular patterns of crosses, sprigs and serpentine scrolls. A silver handle is applied to the upper surface of the blade at the center of the wide wedge. The joint of handle and blade is supported with a thick socket in the shape of a whorl of petals. The silver handle ends in a turned wooden grip. Engraved on the reverse is a crest: a toothed pike's head flanked by vine-like laurel branches.

The crest is derived from an English designation, assigned to the name "Franklin" or "Franklyn," and was used by Benjamin Franklin, though his family was not armigerous (entitled to bear arms).

This tool has occasionally been called a masonic trowel, because of its resemblance to a mason's or brick-layer's trowel. This conflicts with the information provided by the donor (see below), and with examples in other collections. The trowel-like appearance of the utensil was conflated with Franklin's active career as a Mason, and resulted in the inaccurate identification.

There is neither maker's mark nor any assay or tax marks. The 19th-century leather case measures 14 5/16 inches wide, 4 3/4 inches deep and 1 9/16 inches high. It is impressed on the top with the title: "Benjamin Franklin's Fish Knife." The interior bears the disc-shaped stamp of Bailey and Company, Philadelphia silversmiths, which survived through the 20th century as Bailey, Banks & Biddle.

Accompanying the object is a newspaper clipping, from Philadelphia, dated Saturday, April 5, 1884, regarding the "Masonic Relics of Dr. Benjamin Franklin."
Connection to Franklin
Believed bought by Franklin in London; descended in his family Terms of Use Credits