Collector’s Weekly: The Polyamorous Christian Socialist Utopia That Made Silverware for Proper Americans

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The first time you heard the word “Oneida,” it was probably in the context of silverware. Perhaps it was before a Christmas dinner, when your mom or grandmother instructed you get out the “good silver” made by Oneida Limited. Even though it was only silverplate rather than sterling, your family probably stored it in a velvet-lined wooden case. Or maybe you saw an ad depicting an elegant table set with Oneida flatware while flipping through the pages of “Good Housekeeping” or “Better Homes and Gardens.” You might also have encountered Oneida while watching “The Price Is Right,” enthralled by the model wowing a studio audience when she opened a chest of gleaming Oneida cutlery for the contestants to bid on.

In fact, Oneida is the name of a First Nations tribe that occupied much of upstate New York long before it was called upstate New York. Given those deep roots, along with its later symbolism as the brand of flatware most associated with American middle-class aspirationalism and traditional gender roles, it’s doubly ironic that Oneida Limited actually emerged from a 19th-century polyamorous communist Christian utopia known as the Oneida Community.

Founded in 1848, and in operation for just over three decades, the Oneida Community was profoundly revolutionary for its time, paving the way for advances in women’s and workers’ rights. At the commune headquartered on the Oneida River in upstate New York, women cut their hair short, ditched the corset, and did the same work as the men. Everyone worked four to six hours a day, and no one accumulated any material possessions—not furniture, not fine clothing, and certainly not silverware.

This was an interesting rabbit hole as well.  I mentioned it to Mark, and he said that Frank Trzaska wrote a piece years ago on the Oneida Community and WWI trench knives. We are currently trying to dig it up.

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