Brief History of Silverplate Flatware
The Fork: Used as a kitchen tool for centuries, the fork was slow to make its way into common usage as an eating implement. By the 7th century, the fork was being used among royal courts in the Middle East and by the 11th century was fairly common among the wealthy merchants in the region.
In the 11th century, forks were brought to Italy by a Byzantine princess upon her marriage to a future Doge (chief magistrate) of Venice. Because she refused to eat with her hands, the princess’s table manners were considered decadent and scandalous. The Catholic
church went so far as to sternly admonish her, stating her use of the fork was an affront to God’s intention to use the fingers. When she died shortly after her wedding, it was perceived as divine punishment and helped to delay the common usage of forks in Italy for several more centuries. By the 14th century, forks were occasionally showing up in the inventories and wills of the nobles and the wealthy.
In 1533, the fork worked its way to France when Italian Catherine de Medici married the future king of France, Henry II. Again, the fork was slow to be accepted in France as the French thought it to be an affectation of the Italians. The French found it awkward and even dangerous. When it did begin to entrench itself in the local culture, it was strictly something for only the very wealthy and upper classes.
In 1608, after his travels in Italy, an Englishman named Thomas Coryate brought the first forks to England. The English, however, wanted little to do with the fork, considering it to be effeminate. In America, it is said that in 1630 Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony possessed the first and only fork in the Colonies.
Not until 1633, when King Charles I declared, “It is decent to use a fork,” did the use of the fork begin to gain a foothold of acceptance in England. Even then, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the fork worked its way down to the lower classes in England.
It was also around this time that the shape of the fork itself took on a change. Up until this time, forks were flat and normally consisted of two straight tines at the end of a handle. It was known as a “split spoon”. The curved fork we’re familiar with today, which is much better designed to scoop up food, was developed in the 18th century in Germany. The number of tines grew from two, to three, then to four. The four tined fork didn’t become de rigeur until the mid-1800’s.
The Knife: The knife is the oldest known implement, used as a cutting tool at the dawn of Mankind. The knife as an eating utensil didn't develop until the Middle Ages. At that time, peasants would carry a knife with them at all times, having the knife do double duty as both an eating tool and a weapon. Noblemen would carry two knives, one for each purpose. It was common for a whetstone to be placed just outside the entrance of a great hall so that guests could sharpen their knives before a feast. From this we get the expression "to whet the appetite." During the meal, knife blades were used for cutting and the tips of the knives were used to spear meat and used in the manner we use forks today. Blades were used to pick up smaller items that weren't feasible to be eaten with the hands, such as peas. So in its early days, the knife took on the role of knife, fork, and spoon all at once.
It wasn't until the 16th century in Italy that the true dinner knife emerged, one that's use was strictly for eating. Even then, only the wealthy could afford to supply their guests with them. Louis XIV was the first king to provide each guest with a knife, fork and spoon. By the 18th century it had become fashionable for wealthy people to have sets of matched silver flatware. http://www.sterlingflatwarefashions.com/Utensils/ForksHist.html
The Spoon: Spoons have been used as eating utensils since Paleolithic times. It is most likely that prehistoric peoples used shells or chips of wood as spoons. In fact, both the Greek and Latin words for spoon are derived from cochlea, meaning a spiral-shaped snail shell. This suggests that shells were commonly used as spoons in Southern Europe. Additionally, the Anglo-Saxon word spon, meaning a chip or splinter of wood, points toward widespread use of this material for Northern European spoons. In addition to shell and wood, spoons have also been made from metals (such as gold, silver, silverplate and pewter), ivory, bone, horn, pottery, porcelain, and crystal.
In the 1st Century A.D., the Romans designed two types of spoons that ultimately had far-reaching influence. The first, a ligula, was used for soups and soft foods. It had a pointed oval bowl and a handle ending in a decorative design. The second style of spoon was called a cochleare, and it was a small spoon with a round bowl and a pointed, slender handle for eating shellfish and eggs. The earliest English spoons were likely modeled after these two types of spoons due to the Roman occupation of Britain from A.D. 43 to 410.
During the Middle Ages, spoons, generally made of wood or horn were supplied by dinner hosts. Royalty often had spoons made of gold, and other wealthy families generally had silver spoons. However, beginning around the 14th Century, spoons made of tinned iron, brass, pewter, and other metals, as illustrated by the spoons below, became common. The use of pewter, especially, made spoons more affordable for the general populace. http://www.hospitalityguild.com/History/history_of_the_spoon.htm
Soup Ladles and Gravy Ladles: A gravy ladle is a flatware device used to ladle (spoon or pour) gravy. It is similar in design to soup ladles. It looks like a spoon with a deep curve and nearly perpendicular (at a right angle or 90 degrees) to the handle. Even though gravy ladles date to the Roman era and sterling silver flatware was first produced in Sheffield, England in the 1200's, sterling silver and silverplate ladles did not see widespread use until the mid-18th century, when a companion to the newly embraced- soup tureen was needed. A long, gooseneck-handled spoon with a working end big enough to efficiently fill a soup bowl was an obvious complement.
Like a lot of flatware of the day, sterling silver and silverplate ladles conformed to the prevailing style. Handles tended to feature the same sorts of shapes and designs as knives, forks, and spoons—from plain Old English to scalloped King’s to handles with beaded borders, which were especially popular during the Victorian Era. http://www.collectorsweekly.com/sterling-silver/ladles A soup spoon is a type of spoon with a large or rounded bowl, used for eating soup.
Tea Balls / Tea Infusers: Sterling tea infusers / tea balls were most popular around the 1890-1910 time frame. The varieties in shapes and sizes of the infusers made by manufacturers and individual silversmiths during that time are extensive. Many times when smaller firms could not compete with the well-known larger makers like Tiffany or Gorham in the quality or weight of their infusers, they would make lighter weight, less sturdy infusers and would rely on fanciful shapes to attract buyers.
When New York tea merchant William Sullivan put his tea samples in silk bags and sent them to his customers around 1908, he unwittingly invented the disposable tea bag, leading to the sharp decline in popularity of the unwieldy and often hard-to-clean tea ball. There are still some infusers being made today, but most are made of cheaper materials such as stainless steel and porcelain with many of those mainly used for infusing spices or herbs. That reason alone is enough to make us treasure the craftsmanship and variety of the early infusers. http://www.teainfusers.info/history/index.htm
Sugar Tongs: Sugar tongs are an essential component of the traditional English silver tea service. Dating back to the seventeenth century, it is a device designed to serve cubed sugar. Initially wrought from cast metal, sugar tongs were later crafted from sheet silver.
The period beginning in 1770 was a one of growing prosperity in England. And with this prosperity came a period of advancement for English silver tableware. During this period, sugar tongs morphed from tea tongs to cast sugar tongs to the more familiar, standard sugar tongs that we use today (known as sugar bows at the time).
Cast tongs enjoyed a very short life on the market, and were no longer manufactured after the 1780s. Cast tongs are therefore very rare, and undamaged cast tongs are even harder to find. Today, silver sugar tongs from this period and later are more common than cast sugar tongs. This is simply because silver is far more durable.
The earliest silver sugar tongs were quite plain. They were either entirely devoid of decoration or had a simple beaded edge. Pretty soon, however, a penchant for hand-engraved sugar tongs were all the rage until the early 1800s. Bright cut engraving was the style used in this period.
Traditionally, sugar tongs were made in three separate pieces: the bow and two arms. These separate pieces were then soldered together. The craftsman's mark along with the hallmark were typically stamped at the joins of the soldered bow and arms. The end grip on each arm have always been crafted in the form of claws, paws or shells.
Most of the silver sugar tongs in this period were assayed in London, where several different makers produced large numbers of sugar tongs. Other notable locations at which they were assayed was in provinces such as Newcastle, York, Exeter, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Dublin and Birmingham.
Bright cut engraving virtually died away by 1820, with the increasing use of mechanized production. It gave way, instead, to standard patterns, including King's pattern and Fiddle pattern.
Sugar tongs have long been a popular betrothal and wedding gift. They were often initialed, adding a personal touch. Today, owning a pair of sterling or silverplate sugar tongs means owning a 200-year-old piece of British history.
Sugar Shell & Sugar Spoons: A sugar spoon is a piece of cutlery used for serving granulated sugar. This type of spoon resembles a teaspoon except that the bowl is deeper and often molded in the shape of a sea shell, giving it the name sugar shell. Sugar spoons are sometimes called "sugar shovels" because of their rectangular shape and deep bowl. Sterling silver and silverplate sugar spoons are used with formal silver coffee or tea services.