JUDGING VINTAGE FLATWARE©

If you prefer to begin with THE STORY OF FLATWARE, click on https://dearfriend.buzz/category/flatware/?order=asc

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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. 

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST IS:  THE STORY OF SERVEWARE

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF THE QUALITY OF FLATWARE IS GOOD?©

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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!

1.  IDENTIFY THE RAW MATERIALS :    

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.

2.   PRODUCTION METHODS:       

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.

3.  FINALLY:
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. 

∗Grading:
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.)

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

Balance: 
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.                                  

Shape:
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.

Edges:
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.)

CARE OF STERLING SILVER OR SILVER PLATE FLATWARE:
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) .

 CARE OF STAINLESS STEEL FLATWARE:
Stainless steel flatware can be safely washed in a dishwasher.

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

CARE OF PEWTER FLATWARE :
Avoid acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits that stain and pit soft pewter.

WHEN WE CHOOSE BETTER QUALITY EVERYDAY PRODUCTS,
OUR LANDFILLS ARE SPARED     

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST: JUDGING VINTAGE FLATWARE

HOW TO CHOOSE FLATWARE ©  

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    GOOD FLATWARE IS MADE IN BROAD PRICE RANGES:

BEFORE SHOPPING, determine:

  • 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.

 AT THE STORE—–TAKE YOUR TIME:

1.    SELECT THE METAL YOU WANT.
2.   CHOOSE PATTERNS YOU LIKE.
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.)
4.   JUDGE QUALITY FOR YOURSELF.

WHEN YOU CHOOSE BETTER QUALITY EVERYDAY PRODUCTS,
  OUR LANDFILLS WILL BE SPARED.        

 Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST:  HOW DO YOU KNOW IF FLATWARE IS GOOD?

 FUNCTIONS and SIZES of FLATWARE: ©

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LUNCHEON – DINNER –  PLACE –  CONTINENTAL ?

Before World War II, sterling knives and forks made by manufacturers of the American Sterling Silversmiths Guild were made in both ∗luncheon and dinner sizes: proportions were aligned to sizes of luncheon and dinner plates.  Other place setting pieces as teaspoons, soup spoons, salad forks, butter spreaders and serving pieces were usually one standard size.

Most Internet information regarding flatware sizes is incorrect.
∗Luncheon size isn’t even mentioned,
yet this was the best selling size of U.S.sterling flatware prior to WWII.  

After World War II, these manufacturers decided to make knives and forks for all new patterns in a new place size: larger than luncheon knives and forks but smaller than dinner size. 

All new sterling patterns were made only in place size —but place size was added to best selling older patterns. This solved production and inventory problems for manufacturers and retailers but price lists for all three sizes confused consumers.

At that time, flatware factories kept dies for all older patterns
so consumers requiring luncheon or dinner sizes could complete
their services by special order.

Continental knives and forks, larger than place size, originated in Europe and were standard for European made flatware; even for international sales.

Today, most knives and forks of European origin are continental size
and most knives and forks of U.S. origin are place size.  

Sadly, mass-produced flatware of any metal is no longer made in the United States.

PLACE SETTING SPOONS:

Teaspoons ·  tablespoons ·  dessert spoons · coffee spoons ·
iced tea spoons · soup spoons
These are the shapes and sizes of spoons traditionally made in sterling;

not all in every pattern—nor every metal.

SOUP SPOON VARIATIONS :

Place spoons:  bowls are elongated to use with soup plates and desserts.
Cream soup spoons:  bowls are round to use with cream soup bowls.
Consommé soup spoons:  bowls are petite to use with consommé cups.

For sterling, silver-plate and stainless steel;
the standard soup spoon is place size.

PLACE SETTING FORKS:

Place  ·  luncheon  ·  dinner  ·  salad  ·  dessert  ·  ice cream  ·  fruit  ·  cocktail
These diverse sized forks were traditionally made in sterling— but not all in every pattern—and fewer sizes in stainless steel.  Currently, place forks and salad forks seem to be the standard forks in most stainless steel patterns, but if you need sizes not made in your pattern, go ahead and MIX.

Fork tines:
For all forks in all metals, tines must be uniform in length: tips must be regular, tapered and well-finished. Edges and both side walls of each tine must be rounded and polished because bacteria clings to rough surfaces and is not guaranteed to wash away from between fork tines—not even by the hot swishing water of dish-washers. Be fussy!  

Currently, in several retail stores, I’ve held stainless steel forks
I could have used to file my nails!

 PLACE SETTING KNIVES:

Place knives · luncheon knives · dinner knives · fruit knives · steak knives · butter spreaders (some patterns are available with both flat or hollow handles).

These are some of the ‘specific-function’ knives that were always available in sterling silver—although not all in every pattern.  Fewer sizes and styles of knives are made in silver-plate and stainless steel.

As explained in the previous post: Design and Production of Flatware, one-piece knives do not hold a good cutting edge.  The solid flat handle and blade are austenitic steel which cannot be hardened by heat.

one piece knife

Two-piece knives are considered better because they’re lighter, provide a better grip and patterns can be cleanly die-struck on each half before they’re soldered together.  However, the blades do not hold a good cutting edge—even though the grade of austenitic steel of the handle is different than the grade of austenitic steel of the blade.

tang of blade in handle

Although these handles are called hollow,  they’re filled with lead to hold the tang (an extension of the stainless steel blade) inserted into the handle.  After heat sealing,  the blade is secure.

PLACE SETTINGS:

4  piece: Knife, fork, salad fork and teaspoon.
5  piece: Knife, fork, salad fork, teaspoon and soup spoon.
6  piece: Knife, fork, salad fork, teaspoon, soup spoon and butter spreader.

SERVING PIECES:

Spoons: Tablespoon, pierced tablespoon, sugar spoon, large salad spoon.
Forks:     Cold meat fork, olive fork, lemon fork, large salad fork.
Knives:  Butter knife, cheese knife, cake knife, bridal cake knife, bar knife
Other:    Gravy ladle, jelly server, pastry server, bon-bon spoon, carving set,
steak carving set.

OPEN STOCK:

All single flatware pieces (not packaged in a set) are called open stock.  This means individual flatware pieces can be purchased one-piece-at-a-time.

However, not all place sizes (e.g. iced tea spoons and cocktail forks) and serving pieces are made in today’s sterling, silver-plate or stainless patterns.

Open stock is usually a more expensive way to purchase flatware but offers the convenience of purchasing flatware by the piece and the opportunity to add pieces over time.

SERVICE SETS:

A flatware starter set is a basic ‘service for 4’.  Services for 8 or 12 are usually attractively boxed to include some serving pieces and may also include double teaspoons.  Set savings are considerable—compared to open stock prices.

BEWARE OF BRAND-BIAS ADVERTISING

 Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST:  HOW TO CHOOSE FLATWARE

DESIGN AND PRODUCTION OF FLATWARE©

 

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Although flatware appears to be uncomplicated, visits to several renowned factories made me appreciate the complexity of production methods requiring costly tools and complex dies necessary to mass-produce good quality flatware. 

Artisan Production:

Sterling silver flatware began as artisan production.  Although they are few, artisan makers of sterling flatware still work globally. Production begins by hammering an ingot of sterling silver or hand-cutting sterling silver sheet stock.  Hammering an ingot of sterling makes metal denser than sheet stock —so the end product is more costly.

Heavy metal dies, some centuries old, are used to strike uniform and articulate patterns in handles and the purity of the metal, date, hallmarks of the maker and even the place of origin are inscribed on each piece. 

Mass-Production:

The mass-production of flatware is global. However, elaborate, costly tools and dies necessary to mass-produce flatware, coupled with the increased cost of labor and of some metals, has forced the closing of established flatware factories in many countries.

Stainless steel is today’s most popular flatware metal, followed by silverplate (electroplated silver over a base metal). Diverse styling is available for traditional or contemporary taste in all metals. Economies of scale make costly technology affordable—relative to the price of the raw material.

Every good quality flatware manufacturer has sequential variations of the following photographs that illustrate some of the production procedures for making stainless steel flatware.

PRODUCTION TECHNIQUES:

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After designs are worked on paper, prototypes of each pattern are created to assess the beauty of the design and to perfect the function and balance of each piece—prior to assigning the pattern to a master die cutter.

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In order to assure ‘perfect’ steel production dies that will press articulate pattern details on both the front and back of every piece of flatware, some manufacturers first make resin models for every piece of every pattern.

Flat stock:  Outline/Die struck:

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Sheet stock of a base metal alloy is cut into spade-like ‘blanks’ in a process called blanking. Steel dies strike-out each piece according to an exact outline. Where necessary, pieces are trimmed.

Grading:

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Blanks are grade-rolled and cross-rolled to create variations of ‘thick and thin’ for strength and balance as required. Profiles reflect this production principle of quality.

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 Ungraded flatware will bend with use.
This graded fork—is impossible to bend with use.

Spoons:

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From teaspoons to soup spoons to serving spoons, the bowl of a spoon carries both liquids and solid food so it must be sufficiently deep, have a comfortable, controllable handle and no sharp edges to scrape against one’s mouth.

Knives:

Handles for two-piece knives are made as two-halves, enabling each half to receive a die-struck clean, sharp design.  Seams must be invisible so they’re polished away after the two-halves are soldered together. Called hollow, the soldered handles are filled with lead to secure the inserted tang of the blade into the handle—and fused with heat for permanency.

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Blades:

The job of a knife is to cut: how well it cuts depends upon the blade. The solid handle and blade of one-piece knives are made of one durable stainless alloy —but does not hold a sharp cutting edge.
one piece knife
Stainless steel blades are used for all two-piece knives, including sterling and silverplate. Stainless steel two-piece knives are made with one grade of an austenitic  (iron-chromium-nickel) stainless steel alloy  for the handle and a different grade of austenitic stainless steel for the blade (see blade insertion photo). This certainly cuts better than a one piece knife but austenitic steel blades cannot hold a sharp edge; they cannot be hardened by heat treatment.  This is the reason many flatware manufacturers use serrated blades.

Master chefs claim serrated blades rip—rather than cut meat:
nevertheless, many of us use flatware with serrated knives. 

Martensitic steel (18/10 alloy with high carbon content—no nickel), has superior edge retention because it can be hardened by heat treating. Martensitic blades do hold a sharp edge— but because of cost, they’re not used by many flatware manufacturers. Martensitic  steel is commonly used for medical tools as scalpels, razors and internal clamps.

Blade insertion:

x blade with tang
The tang (an extension of metal on a blade) of a two-piece knife is inserted into the hollow handle, filled with lead—and fused with heat for permanency.

Forks:

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Exacting engineering procedures assure uniformity of the length of fork tines. Tine tips must be even, polished and not sharp.  All edges and flat surfaces—especially edges and walls of each tine —must be smooth and polished.

Polishing/buffing:

Edges of every piece of flatware, especially between fork tines, are buffed and polished mechanically and finished by hand.

When you shop, compare similar patterns at different retail prices and be sure you can identify quality differences

 Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

My next post:
FLATWARE  SIZES: LUNCHEON – DINNER –  PLACE –  CONTINENTAL ?

FLATWARE  IN OUR LIVES©

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Quality flatware is determined by raw materials and production methods
—including labor intensive finishing techniques; 

not price.

These posts discuss timeless, unbiased standards of quality from designers and technical experts at international flatware factories renowned for excellence. It’s impossible to judge the quality of flatware without first understanding the metals and complex tools and dies necessary to create balanced shapes and articulate patterns.

Economies of scale make mass-produced flatware affordable relative to the metal used. In order of current popularity, they are: stainless steel, silver-plate and sterling silver.  Production methods may differ for each metal but all are complex.  If we understand these differences, we can choose good quality flatware at prices each of us can afford.                         

FLATWARE  METALS:

Sterling silver:
Fairly abundant in ores, silver is lustrous, malleable and ductile and has been used for ornaments and coins since about 4,000 B.C.  Sterling silver is 925 parts pure silver mixed with 75 parts copper for hardness. Sterling silver flatware is marked sterling or.925.  Sterling flatware lasts throughout many generations and retains its intrinsic value.

Vermeil:
Vermeil is gold plated sterling. Vermeil became popular after Jacqueline Kennedy restored Monroe vermeil flatware found in the basement of the White House.

Silver-plate:
Silver-plate flatware is a layer of silver electroplated over a base metal of nickel silver or stainless steel. Less costly base metals are copper or brass alloys.  In time—depending upon it’s thickness, silver plating wears off. The word silver-plate and the manufacturer’s name should be on each piece.

Some manufacturers silver-plate their stainless steel production flatware. I visited one factory who, for the sake of durability—electroplate stainless steel first in copper— then silver.  Markings of EPNS silver-plate means the flatware base metal is nickel-silver, a superior base metal.

If you choose silver-plated flatware, question the purity and thickness of the silver plating and be sure to ask for possible warranties.

Stainless steel:
Good quality stainless steel flatware is an alloy of iron, 18% chrome, 8 % nickel and a minimum of other metals. Chromium adds rust and corrosion resistance, nickel adds shine. 18/10 stainless flatware is better quality than 18/8 because it contains more nickel. 18/0 stainless steel has no nickel. Alloy designations must be marked on every piece. Both 18/8 and 18/10 alloys are low maintenance and durable.

Stainless steel flatware, stain less—not stain proof, was first made in the 1930’s. The first patterns were severely plain because tools and dies used to strike ornate patterns on silver didn’t work because steel is so hard. Tools and dies capable of mass-producing articulate, elaborate patterns on stainless steel were finally perfected in the 1960’s.

Today, because of durability, affordability, low maintenance and a broad range of patterns from traditional to contemporary,  stainless steel flatware has won universal acceptance.

Currently, stainless steel dominates U.S. flatware sales.  Brands available in U.S. retail stores are made in England, Germany, Italy, Japan and China.

Pewter:
Pewter is 92% tin alloyed with antimony and copper. Today’s silvery gray pewter contains no lead and is not toxic. Pewter doesn’t tarnish but it’s soft and can easily dent and scratch. Many current advertisements for pewter flatware describe cast  pewter handles—with knife blades, spoon bowls and fork tines of stainless steel .

Knife Handles:
Sterling silver,  silver plate, stainless steel and pewter flatware generally refers to spoons, forks, serving pieces and handles of knives: knife blades are usually stainless steel.

Consumers are cautioned to wash all flatware having handles of wood, mother-of-pearl, enamel, porcelain or colored stone (petra dura) by hand. Dishwashers proved unkind to the finish of the much-loved and colorful Bakelite handles of the 1920’s. However, some man-made composite materials have recently been developed to withstand the heat and pressure of a dishwasher.

Blades:
Blades for sterling, silver plate, stainless steel and pewter place-setting knives are acceptable because most of them are a good quality stainless steel alloy—but one that might not hold a sharp cutting edge. Therefore, many manufacturers use serrated stainless steel blades to compensate for the lack of sharpness.

Since 1990, the drop in global demand for sterling and silver-plate flatware has brought about mergers, buy-outs, factory closings and bankruptcies of many international flatware businesses.

Some manufacturers have diversified product lines by buying or merging with glassware and dinnerware companies and some have shown growth through the successful marketing of STAINLESS STEEL FLATWARE.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF FLATWARE IS GOOD?
BY JUDGING FOR YOURSELF! 

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST: DESIGN AND PRODUCTION OF FLATWARE 

                    

THE STORY OF FLATWARE©

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Knives?     Food was cut with sharpened rocks and shells.
Forks?       Food was speared with twigs.
Spoons?    Food was scooped with cupped hands.

Rocks, shells, twigs and cupped hands were serving utensils.
Our ancestors used fingers for eating.

Eating implements evolved over many millennia.  The Book of Hours provides a glimpse of 15th Century eating mannerisms and we see only knives used to cut pieces of game, held with the fingers.  Leather finger coverings were used to handle meats boiled in fat. Knives had very sharp points; it was centuries before they were rounded to prevent people from killing each other at table and stories of knives as conveyors of poison—apparently are true.

Horsemen and hunters carried two-pronged forks, a knife and sharpener. Traveling implements consisted of a handle with inserts for a blade and fork which fit into notches on the back of a small bowl-like spoon.

Historians claim Italians were the first to use forks — considered an excessive sign of refinement.  Catherine de Medici brought forks from Italy to France; for macaroni?  As tines increased from two to four—as our fingers—forks became more bowl-like.

Hosts did not supply eating utensils; dinner guests had to bring their own. The very wealthy used eating implements of gold and in descending order; silver, brass, bronze and iron. Silver coins were hammered into spoons, forks and knife handles — and often embellished with mother-of-pearl, enamel, porcelain and petra dura.

By the 18th Century, individual place setting knives, forks and spoons made of silver, resembled what we use today and call silverware — even when it’s made of stainless steel.  As culinary arts expanded, a repertoire of place setting and serving pieces evolved for each course as well as for specific foods.  Special knives and forks were designed so diners could debone their own fish; table appointments had become status symbols.

When did we begin to call knives, forks and spoons– flatware?
Probably when category labels were established for commercial classification purposes.

Silversmithing, brought to colonial America by English craftsmen, centered in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  Artisan-made sterling flatware soon graced tables of the wealthy. By the mid-1800’s, many artisan businesses evolved into factories capable of mass-producing excellent quality sterling flatware.

Well known U.S.commercial producers were: Reed & Barton (1824),  Gorham (1831), Wallace (1833),  Kirk-Steiff  (1846), Towle (1857) and International Silver (1898).

The late 19th and early 20th Centuries introduced electricity,
radios, refrigerators, typewriters, telephones, steel mills,
automobiles and movies—which generated jobs, leisure time
and disposable income.  

Sterling flatware  began to grace ‘proper’ dining tables of the
middle-classes who used silver-plate for ‘everyday’. The U.S.
flatware industry was alive and well.

A post-WW I demographic shift to cities ended America’s agrarian economy. We welcomed the ’Roaring 20’s —  soon disillusioned by the Great Depression —then united by WW II. Prosperity followed with a proliferation of goods generated by educated GI’s, increased numbers of working women, suburbia and an explosion of baby-boomers.

The American Sterling Silversmiths Guild ran heavy promotions of sterling flatware for brides and also for baby gifts. By 1950, sterling silver flatware had become a staple on bridal registeries. Pre-teens poured endlessly over sterling flatware advertisements in SEVENTEEN MAGAZINE.

After all, a favorite sterling pattern guaranteed a gracious lifestyle!

But the 1960’s juxtaposed computer science, the Cold War, Civil Rights and Women’s Movements with hippies, an anti-establishment uniform of jeans and the ‘me’  generation. This dichotomy continued through the 70’s with Watergate, Vietnam, energy crises, inflation and much disillusion. Sterling flatware?  Scarcely a priority!

By the mid-1980’s, most of my FIT students had no desire to own sterling or silver-plate flatware. It was labor intensive to make and the students thought it was labor intensive to own. Pampering knives and forks didn’t ‘fit’ their planned lifestyle. How prophetic!

Since the U.S. government suspended silver bullion sales by the treasury in November 1961, silver prices fluctuated from a low of $1.29 a troy ounce to a high of $49.45.

The average price of a troy ounce of silver for the past five years:
2010:     $ 20.19 
2011:      $ 35.12  
2012:      $ 31.15    
2013:      $ 23.79 
2014:      $ 19.08
2016:      $ 14.56

Erratic rises and falls of the price of a troy ounce of silver are generated by global supply and demand for pure silver—not only for high-tech industrial applications but also for personal and government investment holdings.

Volatile retail price changes and continual lifestyle changes are largely responsible for declining consumer demand for sterling silver jewelry, flatware and hollow ware. Flatware manufacturers were most negatively affected: resulting in mergers, buy-outs, factory closings and bankruptcies.

On February 12, 2011 the New York Times reported:
“Spoons and forks, the metal flatware that everyone uses,are no longer made in the U.S.  The last factory in an industry stretching back to colonial times closed eight months ago in Sherrill, N.Y., a  small community in the foothills of the Adirondacks. 80 employees lost their jobs.”

The future of sterling flatware?

If you need to complete your sterling service, or want to purchase
new sterling flatware….read on….

Through licensing and acquisitions, patterns designed, manufactured and marketed by Gorham, Towle, Wallace, International Silver, and Kirk-Steiff  are currently made and marketed by Lifetime Brands Inc. in San German, Puerto Rico, an American Territory and sold in many U.S. retail stores.

FLATWARE TODAY?

With little exception, flatware of any metal sold in U.S. retail stores is imported. 

When I comparison shop diverse brands, metals and patterns of flatware in diverse stores, I find diverse countries of origin — and diverse quality.  Some is excellent, some good, some less-than-good. You must judge the quality for yourself and this series of posts will help you.

Flatware quality is determined by raw materials and production methods, not price. We still use our fingers but we’ve come a long way from using rocks, shells, twigs and cupped hands.

We need timeless, unbiased standards of quality for raw materials and production methods (e.g. walls of each fork tine must be polished) and labeling transparency. Information is power. 

Pat Breen: EYEWITNESS TO QUALITY

MY NEXT POST:  FLATWARE IN OUR LIVES