A package arrived at The Waldorf Astoria, here on Park Avenue, the other day. It contained a delicate 5 1/2-inch silver oyster fork, estimated to be 65 years old. It had been "filched," as the management diplomatically terms it, at least half a century ago from the old Waldorf-Astoria that stood on the site now occupied by the Empire State Building.
Along with the fork was a neatly typed letter: "Dear Sirs," it said. "While cleaning my aunt's silver I came across this piece. She is too forgetful to tell me how it came to be in her silver chest. How I would love to know who took it for a 'souvenir' and when. But I guess we will never know. . . . Nonetheless, it is 'stolen goods,' hereby returned."
Within a day another package arrived containing a knife. The hand-written letter accompanying it was couched in bluntly honest terms: "Enclosed you will find a silver table knife that I stole about 25 years ago from the Waldorf." The writer went on to say he had accepted Jesus Christ as his "personal savior."
Unusual? Not a bit of it. Since Jan. 28 of this year when silver prices peaked at record highs more than $30,000 worth of "pilferware" has returned, according to Waldorf manager Eugene R. Scanlan. As the staff here puts it, the gilt-edged holiday seasons are also the "guild edged" seasons; those periods when dormant consciousness are aroused and men wished to make amends for past misdeeds. "I suppose," says manager Scanlan, "you can't truly enter into the spirit of peace on earth, goodwill towards men, when you're eating dessert with a silver spoon you stole from your fellow man."
Among the "give backs" this year were four 65-year-old demitasse spoons, now considered priceless. They were taken from the old Waldorf-Astoria and were returned with an anonymous note on good Friday.
More open was the New York City grandmother who walked in one day with a total of 93 demitasse spoons. Apparently they had been taken during many years of dropping in for coffee at the Waldorf. More than anything, she wanted a thank-you letter from the management so she could show it to her grandchildren.
Apparently the high price of silver triggered many of the returns. People realize that the little souvenir they though was relatively insignificant has suddenly become a very high-priced item. According to Frances Borden of the hotel's public relations division, the returning items are far more valuable than anything currently in use at the hotel.
Nonsilver items are also included among the give-backs. The ultimate, according to Mr. Scanlan, arrived via UPS in a brown paper wrapper. It was a complete china service for one. Apparently it had been a constant reminder to some man or woman from way out in South Dakota of a memorable visit to the Big Apple some 20 years ago.