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During the late 20th Century, retail stores made a transition from
‘silverware departments’ to ‘serve-ware departments’.

Selections of traditional silver serve-wares were supplemented with both hand-crafted and mass-produced decorative and utilitarian wares of  pewter, brass, copper, stainless steel, tin and polished aluminum.
Each of these metals is extracted from ore.

 ORE: natural rocks containing metal

Metals are extracted from ores by metal refineries. 
Metal refineries reduce, concentrate and purify each metal.
Metal refineries alloy and fabricate each metal for artisan or mass-production.

Metal refineries reduce metals from ores by chemicals or smelting  (intense heat liquefies metals in crushed ore). Refiners separate and purify each metal for use in their pure state—or they mix two or more metals to create alloys, as commissioned by artisan or mass-producers of  flatware, serve-ware, cookware and furniture.

  • Alloys are developed for many reasons: changing hardness, density, melting point, value, color and corrosion resistance.
  • Every pure metal and every alloy has different properties of malleability, ductility and density. 
  • Refineries fabricate metals into cast ingots, rolled sheets or extruded wire of different weights, gauges, sizes and value.silver wire for blogsheet steel for blog


Fairly abundant in ores, silver is lustrous, malleable and ductile. Silver has been used for ornaments and coins since about 4,000 B.C. Silver conducts electricity and heat better than any other metal and is currently vital in many industries. The melting temperature of silver is 1764º F.

Pure:       1,000 of 1,000 parts of silver are pure.
Alloyed:  Sterling silver is an alloy of 925 parts pure silver, and 75 parts copper. (a standard established in 1238 by King Henry III of England).
International Marking standards:
       Sterling or 925.
       Coin silver or 900   (900 of 1,000 parts pure silver).
       800 silver or 800    (800 of 1,000 parts pure silver).

Sheffield silver plate was developed in England in the 1740s.  Flat sheets of sterling silver were fused –both under and over flat sheets of copper –as a desirable metal for hollow-wares.

Since the 1840’s, fusing sheets of silver to copper has been replaced by  electroplating metals as nickel, brass or copper with a coating of silver.

If you see current silver products labeled Sheffield, it means the product is made in Sheffield or made by a company named Sheffield. Original Sheffield wares are valued by collector’s.


Copper is one of the earliest metals known to man who employed it for both ornamental and functional use. Copper is called the First Metal Age. Copper is malleable, ductile, resistant to corrosion and second only to silver as a conductor of heat and electricity.  It is the critical component of bronze and brass and also used as a hardening agent in alloys e.g. sterling silver.

A ‘supreme’ conductor of heat, copper is wonderfully sensitive to temperature changes. It heats quickly and evenly and cools quickly when removed from the heat source. Quality copper cookware is expensive and must be lined to avoid copper’s toxic contact with most foods.  Copper discolors and requires polishing.


Bronze, the Second Metal Age, was developed as an alloy of copper and tin.  Today, bronze is also alloyed with aluminum, manganese or silicon, each having specific technical application.  Bronze is strong, hard and corrosion resistant—making it desirable as outdoor sculpture.


scan0135Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.  Harder than copper, brass usage began in the 16th Century.  Many decorative and functional home products are made of brass.


Steel is 85% iron alloyed with other elements. High carbon steel is 12% carbon—making it similar to— but harder than cast iron.


Because stainless steel resists corrosion and is non-reactive to food, it has wide application in homes and public places. Alloys include high carbon steel, austenitic steel and martensitic steel; each having different technical application for home products.

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Stainless steel is stain less—not stain proof.  An alloy of iron, chrome and nickel, stainless steel was developed in England in 1913.  Different formulas have varying tensile strength; 18/8 or 18/10 means iron is alloyed with 18 parts chrome and 8 or 10 parts nickel. 18/10 is considered superior.


Used since ancient times, tin is a soft metal.  Tin is corrosion resistant, ductile and exceptionally malleable.   Tin is the major element of pewter and tin is alloyed with copper to make bronze.


Pewter is approximately 92% tin alloyed with antimony and copper.  Today’s silvery gray pewter does not tarnish, although it is very soft and dents easily. Patinas of commercial pewter wares can range from dull — to a high polish.

Old pewter was an alloy of tin and lead and very dark in color. Old pewter is valued by collectors—but pewter made with lead is toxic and is not produced today.  Pewter wares containing lead must not be used for food or beverage.


Aluminum is the most abundant of metals, but it was not isolated until the 19th Century.  It is currently second in usage to iron/steel.  Aluminum is lightweight, easy to shape, and has diverse application for homes, vehicles and the food industry. Aluminum is a successful cookware metal primarily because it is an excellent conductor of heat (although less than copper). 

For the past thirty years, polished aluminum serve-ware has become increasingly desirable because of the beauty and diversity of products made by artisan metal designers and mass-producers. Some hand-crafted aluminum artisan products are very costly because of labor—but all polished aluminum serve-ware offers durability and low maintenance.

The metals as discussed in this post relate only to metal serve-ware.
Metallurgy science and technology impacts everything and everyone in our world.




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Did your family have special serving dishes saved for holiday and company dinners? Do you still use them? I still use some of my mother’s favorite serve-ware;  but only what doesn’t require a lot of maintenance.

I haven’t used her silver well and tree platter in years!   Traditional serving wares were classic, utilitarian shapes sold in silver departments of retail stores.

Even before the price of silver escalated, 20th Century consumers
wanted metal serve-ware requiring less maintenance. 
This brought
new vitality to the design and production of both traditional and
contemporary wares made in a variety of alloys including: sterling
silver, silver plate, brass, copper, pewter, stainless steel, tin and
polished aluminum. All shapes and styles can be made in every metal.

These photographs are to illustrate their function—not their style.

Coffee and tea ware:
pewter coffee pot

Ceremonial aspects are heightened
when pouring from a burnished metal pot.

This coffee and tea pot are made of pewter which —like all metal—gets very hot. The wood handles perform as a heat breaker.

Coffee and tea pots can be similar in shape to each other— or very different.  To prevent heat from damaging table tops, some pots are footed and some have rounded pedestal bases.

Western tea pot shapes were derived from classic Oriental tea pots which had round bowls —the better to allow brewed tea leaves to settle in the bottom—and highly placed spouts—the better to keep tea leaves from being poured into the teacup.

When explorers brought coffee to Europe from South America, spouts were added to ale tankards to use as coffee pots—and many of today’s coffee pots remain similarly shaped.  Cream pitchers and sugar bowls usually repeat the shape of either the coffee or tea pot.

Optional coffee and tea service pieces:
Hot water kettles with spigots are meant to add hot water to coffee or tea.
Waste bowls hold the dregs from one’s tea cup before refilling.


pewter tray
Trays serve hors d’ouvres, cookies, sandwiches, beverages and tea ware.
This hand-hammered pewter tray features hand-crafted handles.


pewter centepiece bowl with grapefruit
All shapes of bowls—serve bon-bons, flowers, breads or fruit.

This bowl is hand hammered pewter.

Vegetable dishes:

stainless seel veg dish

Because metal retains heat, metal serving dishes are excellent for serving hot vegetables. Covers of  vegetable dishes can usually be inverted to perform as a second dish. This stainless steel vegetable dish has a highly polished rim.

Meat platters:

stainless steel meat platter
Flat platters, also called trenchers, are for serving hot or cold meats.

This platter is stainless steel.

silver well and tree

Well & tree platters are for hot meats.
The ‘tree’ allows meat juices to flow into the well from which they’re ladled.
This hand-hammered platter is silver plated nickel-silver.

Buffet Service:

buffet dishes

There is an endless variety of serve-ware buffet dishes.
These silver holders have oven-to-table porcelain cookware liners.


Supper platters have separate compartments for meat and vegetables.
Rechaud dishes have cookware liners sitting above a water-base kept hot by alcohol burners.

Sauce dishes:

sauce dish

   This easy to maintain sauce boat is stainless steel.

Silver sauce dishes must be washed immediately to avoid pitting from salty sauces, gravies and mayonnaise.

Candle holders:


Metal candle holders must be stable.

As shown, many are weighted  for stability.

blog candlestick
This candlestick was handled vigorously and the metal twisted.

Candlesticks range in height from very low to very tall.  Some manufacturers thread the inside of metal candle cups so candle-holding-arms can be added to create candelabra.

blog candelabra

Threaded components add versatility of height and candle capacity.

Ice/ Champagne Buckets:

Metal also retains cold —-
making it excellent as a container for ice, wine and champagne.


large pitcher
This silver-plated pitcher is hand-hammered.
Pitchers  serve endlessly for beverages and flowers.

Goblets and glasses:

003 (2)
Silver drink ware has been used for centuries.
These silver-plated glasses feature hand-crafted repoussé designs.
If anyone claims they “taste silver”, they’re actually tasting tarnish.
Untarnished silver has no taste. 




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Read how metal serving products originated and continue to be artisan and mass-produced; from raw materials to finished products. I share standards of quality for diverse products entrusted to me by technical experts at renowned international factories.  Yes, you can JUDGE FOR YOURSELF. INFORMATION IS POWER.

Brand  names change, styles  change, prices change.

 EVERYDAY HOME PRODUCTS explains my mission.  ABOUT is about me.

Throughout the 20th Century, sterling silver and silver-plated metal coffee and tea sets, meat platters, trays, vegetable dishes, pitchers and bowls of all sizes were sold in the SILVERWARE departments of large stores.

These hollow metal wares were made long before the adage, form follows function.  Their decorative designs mirrored art, changing social patterns and customs and their elegance and permanence established them as desirable wedding gifts. Couples not only registered for glassware, dinnerware and flatware, they registered for silver hollow-ware.

In the late 20th Century, the price of a troy ounce of silver began to escalate and contemporary lifestyle became increasingly casual: retail sales of silver hollow-ware declined.  Retail stores added more affordable serving products made of stainless steel, pewter, copper, brass, bronze, tin and polished aluminum alloys which were casual and required little or no maintenance. SILVER HOLLOW WARE  transitioned into SERVE-WARE .

This series of posts is only about METAL SERVE-WARE.  Standards of quality are from on-site interviews with management, designers and technical experts at international factories renowned for decorative and functional metal home products. The excellence of their products is established by the excellence of the quality of the raw materials and production methods from which they’re made.

Early man’s ability to shape metals for ceremonial purposes
proved reverence for metals as well as documentation of our
world before written history.

The Old Testament refers to the refiner’s fire—and Solomon’s
drinking vessels of gold, and silver, —as a token of payment in
Babylon in 4500 B.C.

Regrettably, many precious metal artifacts were melted for money in times of war and depression. And Paul Revere?  Our patriot silversmith had to recycle silver objects and silver currency to produce new silverware because British embargoes forbade importing silver bullion.

At FIT, during a product knowledge class about metal home products, my students and I watched a documentary of a contemporary master-silversmith reenacting skills of a Colonial silversmith performing every artisan task to make a sterling coffee pot including casting an ingot from melted scrap, hammering it into sheet stock and slowly raising the metal by hammering.

The process of hand-crafting a coffee pot complete with handle and spout engendered such dramatic suspense, the class audibly cheered his success!

Casting, extruding, soldering, pickling, annealing, cutting, chasing, planishing and polishing for any metal—are skills of a metal smith—and are only some of the artisan techniques developed to showcase masterful craftsmanship.

In 1842, electro-plating democratized the production and availability of affordable, good quality silver-plated serving wares—but for many, the opportunity to own sterling or silver-plate home products was diminished by wars, depressions and recessions.

Post World War II recovery brought prosperity and a population explosion of baby boomers and silverware departments overflowed with lustrous wares— in anticipation of —and celebration of —a gracious lifestyle.

My British commissionaire took me to the London Silver Vaults*
 — for me, an equation of  discovering Tutankhamen’s treasures! 

Established in 1882, the vaults performed as giant safe deposits for
moneyed classes when they were away from London.  Damaged in
the blitz, they were rebuilt at Chancery Lane as a labyrinthine retail
space for antique silver and jewelry .

Muffineers, sweetmeat baskets, epergnes, chocolate pots, tureens,
picture frames and flatware surpassed anything I had ever seen in
a manufacturer’s showroom! Surely, a trove?

Masterpieces of artistry and craftsmanship (some less so) reflected
the formal dining fashions of Georgian and Victorian England.
Hallmarks and assay markings provided assurance of authenticity
and history of each piece. 

*The London Silver Vaults at Chancery Lane are currently
listed as ‘one of the things to do in London’.

Throughout the 1960’s, sales of silver-plate and sterling hollow-ware continued to surge — until the recession and economic stagnation of the 1970’s. Coupled with a casual lifestyle, aging baby-boomers had no desire for silver wares : they were costly and required a lot of maintenance.

By 1990, retail sales of sterling and silver-plated wares were sorely impacted by erratic raw material costs. A troy ounce of silver averaged $4.95 in 1990, $20.19 in 2010, $35.12 in 2011,   $31.15 in 2012, $23.79 in 2013, $19.08 in 2014, and $14.56 in 2016.  Price volatility is attributed to global demand for pure silver for high-tech industrial applications and global economic concerns.

Good quality cannot be assumed. We’re easily duped: even inferior metal wares look good when new and most of us can’t identify differences in their quality—although most of us think we can.

The breadth and complexity of materials and production methods currently used for serve-ware is extensive; not all have merit. What we need to know is rarely on labels nor required by law to be there.  Untrained salespersons dispense a lot of inaccurate information; most brand advertising is blatantly brand-biased. Does any manufacturer admit their products are less-than-good?

Globally, sales of silver serve-ware have declined because of price and our casual lifestyle but THE STORY of SERVE-WARE has a happy ending because of the diverse and beautiful 21st Century metal serve-ware products currently made that require little or no maintenance! 








If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FLATWARE, click on

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Whether shopping for used or vintage flatware at estate sales,
thrift shops or flea markets,
assortments are currently plentiful.

Carry a magnifying glass to read identifying hallmarks, manufacturer’s names and metal content and bring a tape measure to be sure sizes of knives or forks you want to match are correct, or bring pieces with you.

Selections can be limited,
prices erratic
and information is often a ‘guesstimate’ of the seller.

Be forewarned:
For sterling — the  pattern matters.
If selling, some patterns may be valued only at today’s melting price.
If buying, some patterns demand hefty prices.

Verify the flatware metal or alloy:Be wary of unmarked flatware. Identifying mark of the metal, legitimate hallmarks and (sometimes the manufacturer’s name) should be on every piece.  Some markings are traceable through the Internet: you may be able check resale value of some patterns.

Sterling flatware should be marked sterling or .925 .  Most sterling flatware is hallmarked and/or stamped with the name of the manufacturer.

Silver-plate should be labeled silver-plate. EPNS—means nickel-silver, a superior base metal for silver-plate flatware.

Stainless steel, marked 18/8 or 18/10, shows the amount of nickel and chrome in the formula.  Stainless steel, marked 18/0 or 13/0,  contains no nickel: pass.

How old is the flatware?
Sterling silver has no expiration date but age affects sizes of knives and forks. Before WW II, U.S. sterling knives and forks were made in both luncheon and dinner sizes. I became retail buyer for Berger’s Gift Gallery in 1958 and we sold sterling knives and forks in all American-made patterns in both luncheon and dinner sizes.

A few years later, place size was introduced as the new standard size of knives and forks by manufacturing members of the American Sterling Silversmiths Guild. Continental size, made by European manufacturers, became popular in the U. S. in the 1970’s.

If you need to match flatware, measure your knives and forks at home—then shop with a ruler.

If knives have unplated carbon steel blades, the flatware is quite old: pass.
Carbon steel blades rust without the protection of mineral oil which must be removed each time for use.

How long does flatware last?
Good quality sterling flatware is expected to last for many generations without showing signs of wear.  Use and inevitable scratches develop a patina so used sterling can look better than new.

Good quality silver-plating on flatware should last about 20 years before it begins to wear away; although some manufacturers claim a longer life span. The escalating cost of a troy ounce of silver has made replating very expensive. 

It’s anticipated that stainless steel flatware will last 100 years.  If the weight and gauge of the metal is good; stainless steel flatware probably has no expiration date.

Where was the flatware made?
Consumers have no control over the country of origin of today’s flatware and should not make quality judgments by brand name: global outsourcing has become very common. This means a brand manufacturer of one country contracts production to a manufacturer in another country. This is one more reason to learn to judge quality for yourself.

When buying used or vintage flatware, it’s significant to learn if the flatware was made by one of the renowned European or American manufacturers—no longer in business. Their standards of quality were excellent.

How good is the knife blade?
If a stainless steel knife is one-piece of metal, it’s a given that the blade does not hold a sharp edge. In the case of a vintage two-piece knife, whether sterling, silver- plate or stainless steel, examine the edge of the blade to judge its quality.

If a blade has been silver plated, (common to older sterling and silver plate flatware) and if the plating is wearing off the cutting edge, pass. The base metal might be toxic—or the flatware is too old: replacing blades is very costly.

All edges of all flatware must be smooth and polished—especially between fork tines. Well-polished edges are an obvious sign of quality for every flatware metal— but I’ve recently seen new stainless steel forks in retail stores with edges between each tine —so rough—I could file my nails!

After learning that dishwashers don’t remove all bacteria from rough metal, I find myself checking forks—especially at a fast-food restaurant. When surfaces between fork tines are rough,  order a sandwich!

If flatware has a pattern, it must be articulate.Patterns are die-struck and must appear crisp and clean on both front and back of every piece. Better quality manufacturers create two different patterns—so the back pattern is not simply the reverse of the front pattern.

Don’t believe everything a seller tells you about used flatware unless you know the owner. 




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We use flatware daily and expect it to feel good in our hands
— perform a myriad of tantalizing tasks —
and look good!

If any of the following criteria raises objections to a pattern you like, keep looking; there are endless patterns, sizes, brands and qualities from which to choose.

If you need iced teaspoons, fruit knives and forks, sea food forks, etc. and they’re not made in the pattern you prefer, purchase them in a different pattern. Mixing is very okay!


Whether sterling silver, silver-plate, stainless steel, or pewter — retail prices for excellent quality flatware are based primarily on the value of the metal.  Of course you must choose a pattern you like — but your choice of metal should be based upon its required maintenance as well as cost.

18/8  and 18/10 designate only the amount of chromium and nickel in the stainless alloy: chromium adds rust and corrosion resistance, nickel adds shine.  The ∗grade of stainless steel refers to the quality and durability of the alloy—and also its temperature resistance — which affects the cutting quality of a blade.

Blades of choice for most of today’s flatware of any metal are made of a good grade of stainless steel but cutting quality depends upon the ∗grade and content of the alloy.  This is why many knife blades are serrated.


The mass-production of flatware is highly capital intensive and for better quality manufacturers, production is also highly labor intensive: excellent finishing requires much hand-labor. N.B. The country of origin of a ‘brand name’ may not be the country of origin of the production.

Same-metal patterns within a close price range usually have similar finishes. This is why it’s better to compare both cheaper and more expensive flatware within the same style and metal family— so you can readily see differences in weight and finishing.

Is the pattern articulate?
Heavy steel dies and machinery necessary to die-strike a pattern on the handle of each piece of flatware is costly. Patterns on better flatware should be struck on both the front and back of each piece and must be articulate to your eye.

Examine finished flatware to assess if the following standards of production are well executed.

The ‘metal’:
Be sure the metal content is properly marked/labeled. Sterling should be marked sterling or .925 and the word silver plate should be stamped or die-struck on each piece of silver-plate flatware. Chrome/nickel percentages as 18/8, 18/10 or other must appear on each piece of stainless steel. Manufacturer logos are usually stamped or die-struck on the back of each piece of quality stainless flatware. 

graded flatware

The ∗grading of finished flatware refers to the varying thicknesses of the metal for each piece—and should not be uniform. The profile of  spoons and forks verify the metal has been grade-rolled to assure strength is built-in where needed.
(Don’t confuse this with the quality ∗grade of the composition of the steel alloy.)

Flatware should feel substantial;  not too heavy — not too light. Try flexing spoons and forks; if they give—even a little bit—keep looking.  

Hold each knife, fork, spoon and soup spoon and pretend you’re cutting and eating. Each piece must be balanced, especially soup spoons and forks which should remain level when lifting food to the mouth.                                  

Flatware should be comfortable to hold— but function goes beyond the handle.  Soup spoons must be sufficiently deep to hold soup.  Forks must not be too flat because of the vegetables and sauces they must carry.  Knife grips must feel secure.

Knives — handles & blades:
Hollow-handle knives of any metal are lighter in weight than one-piece knives and manufacturers of better quality two-piece knives use blades made of a good steel alloy—although many good steel alloys do not hold a good cutting edge. But if you prefer a pattern made with one piece knives that do not remain sharp, why not add a set of steak knives?  Mixing adds interest.

• Martensitic steel is a superior alloy for blades. Its’ exceptional
hardness provides excellent cutting power,  but use of this costly
alloy for knife blades is uncommon.

• Most manufacturers use an 18/8 or 18/10 austenitic steel alloy
for spoons, forks, knife handles and blades and neither holds a good
cutting edge because austenitic steel cannot be hardened by heat.
Since the job of a knife is to ‘cut’, many flatware manufacturers
serrate knife blades. 

Fork tines:
Fork tines should all be the same length. Tine tips should be tapered, uniform in thickness and not pointed or sharp.  Edges of tines should be rounded and walls between each tine should be polished. Wherever metal is rough, food and bacteria can accumulate.

All edges of every place setting and serving piece must be smooth and polished.

Sizes:  luncheon, dinner, place and continental.
These are the specific names and sizes of knives and forks successfully marketed in the United States during the 20th and 21st Centuries. (Many websites offer inaccurate information about flatware sizes.)

N.B. Sulphur is in the air we breathe—and—sulphur tarnishes silver.

  • Never wash sterling silver or silver-plate flatware in a dishwasher. Dishwasher detergents eventually dull the finish of silver and eventually wear off factory oxidation of a relief pattern. Also, don’t hand-wash sterling in the same dishpan with stainless flatware because these two metals have an electrolytic reaction.
  • Avoid using chemical dips.
  • Wash sterling or silver-plate flatware immediately after contact with mayonnaise or salty and acidic foods.
  • Don’t soak silver flatware; wash it and dry it —very dry—with soft towels.
  • Polish silver flatware with a quality silver polish and dry with a soft cloth.
  • Store silver flatware in an airtight silver chest or tarnish proof bags (avoid plastic and rubber bands) .

Stainless steel flatware can be safely washed in a dishwasher.

If you need to polish stainless steel flatware, use a good stainless steel polish.

Avoid acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits that stain and pit soft pewter.





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  • Do you want and need flatware for everyday?
    — and a different set for company?
  • Will you entertain formally, informally or both?
    Patterns are suitable for every lifestyle.
  • What can you afford to spend for everyday flatware and/or company flatware?  Price will impact your choice of metal.
  • Is washing flatware in a dishwasher important for you?
    If yes, make sure your selection is dishwasher safe.
  • All silver flatware should be washed by hand and thoroughly dried after use.
  • Are you willing to take-on the maintenance of periodically polishing sterling or silver-plate flatware?
  • All silver flatware should be properly stored between uses.
  • If you prefer flatware with wooden handles,  they must not be washed in a dishwasher, nor should they be allowed to soak in a dishpan.
  • If the flatware pattern you prefer doesn’t include all of the place-setting or serving pieces you want, try mixing!
  • Start a trend!  Make things ‘multi-purposed’, e.g. use a pickle fork to serve lemon slices.


3.   PRETEND YOU’RE HAVING SOUP: Does the soup spoon stay level?
      PRETEND YOU’RE CUTTING MEAT: Is the knife grip comfortable?
(each is important in selecting the size,  balance and comfort for YOU.)