When it comes to antique sterling silver flatware, age is not everything. For example, much of the flatware from the Victorian and Edwardian eras were mass-produced. For this reason, knives, forks, spoons, and serving utensils from these periods tend to be less collectible than handmade pieces, even those from more recent times.

A piece of flatware’s pattern and maker are generally more important than its age. Some patterns were meant to mimic the styles of earlier eras or places—Louis XIV-inspired patterns, evoking the opulent grandeur of 17th- and 18th-century France, are particularly common.

Other patterns are specific to a company. The 19th-century silversmith Wm. A. Rogers was known for his Elberon pattern, whose decorative edges extended all the way from the end of the handle to the base of the working part of the utensil itself. To prevent competitors from copying their patterns, many silversmiths actually patented their patterns in an attempt to make them immediately identifiable with their companies.

Most companies produced multiple patterns at a time, each with a descriptive or important-sounding name—from Buttercup, Daffodil, and Narcissus to Canterbury, Lafayette, and Duke of York. These patterns were often made continuously for decades, so the name of a maker and a pattern is not necessarily the best way to date a piece. To further muddle matters, companies such as American silver giant Reed & Barton made the same patterns in both silver plate and sterling silver, which, again, makes dating a particular piece of flatware difficult.

For collectors, the functionality of a piece of flatware is sometimes the most important consideration, especially if that functionality is archaic or obsolete. Serving pieces were the most specialized. Aspic slicers were designed exclusively for calves-foot jelly, cucumber and tomato-slice servers resembled tiny slotted hand mirrors, spinach forks had three wide-spaced tines to spear mounds of boiled spinach, and leaf-shaped ice cream ladles were meant to be used with a matching, dull knife—little wonder this combo was replaced by the ice cream scoop.

Sometimes the shapes of serving utensils didn’t tell you much about their use. A 19th-century sardine fork might reasonably be mistaken for a miniature lawn rake, while the cake servers from that era often look like hair combs. In other cases, the functionality of the serving utensil is clear, but the preparation of the food for which it was designed has fallen out of fashion—butter picks with fork handles and drill-bit-like ends do a fine job of stabbing chilled butter balls, but who eats butter like that anymore?

Aesthetics were the other major factor. Silversmiths such as Gorham, Georg Jensen, Tiffany & Co., Unger Bros., Oneida, and Shreve & Co. combined original designs with ones pulled from history, from the aforementioned Louis XIV to Art Nouveau...

For customers and collectors alike, settling on a pattern that is pleasing to look at is extremely important because with a complete silver service, you’ll be looking at that pattern a lot. A Gorham Chantilly service for 12, for example, may include two types of forks, three types of knives and spoons, and another half dozen serving utensils, for a total of 102 pieces. That’s a lot of Chantilly, so make sure you like it before you decide to bring it into your home.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Spoonplanet.com

Spoonplanet.com

Silver spoon collectors will eat up this site sponsored by the Spoon Collectors of Southern California. Here you ca… [read review or visit site]

Chicago Silver

Chicago Silver

Paul Somerson's incredible reference on handwrought metalwork from the American Arts and Crafts movement of the ear… [read review or visit site]

Feeding America

Feeding America

This archive of 76 influential American cookbooks from the late 1700s to early 1900s, assembled by the Michigan St… [read review or visit site]

Tupper Diva

Tupper Diva

Kristian McManus’ fresh, airtight collection of Tupperware catalogs and related ephemera from the 1950s and 6… [read review or visit site]

Silver Marks Encyclopedia

Silver Marks Encyclopedia

An extensive reference guide to silver marks, hallmarks, trademarks and maker's marks found on antique and vintage … [read review or visit site]

Silver at the Victoria and Albert

Silver at the Victoria and Albert

This is a great reference site on silver, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum. You can view silver items acc… [read review or visit site]

The Gilbert Collection

The Gilbert Collection

The late Sir Arthur Gilbert's collection of European silver, gold, enamel, and other items is now housed at the Vic… [read review or visit site]

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

“Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj” was the title of a 2008 exhibition at Columbia University’s Mi… [read review or visit site]

TheStieffCompany.com

TheStieffCompany.com

Scott Perkins is an enthusiastic evangelist for The Stieff Company, a significant Baltimore silversmith and maker o… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Punch Ladle Hawkes Holland Pattern Abp Cut Glass+gorham Sterling Silver NrBeautiful Liberty & Co Solid Silver Spoons Art Nouveau Birmingham 1926Tiffany 24k Gold Vermeil Sterling Silver 48 Pieces Bamboo Flatware Service For 8Large Sterling Silver Reed Barton Francis 1 Flatware Set Heavy Rare Old ServersLarge Old Wallace Grand Baroque Sterling Silver Flatware Set Heavy 8 Server Full73p Huge Reed Barton Florentine Lace Sterling Silver Flatware Full Rare ServersSterling Flatware Set Westmoreland In The Milburn Rose Pattern 42 Pieces Lot Of 2 Different Gorham Sterling Silver Servers - Chantilly And LansdowneReed And Barton Large Set Of Francis I Sterling Flatware 113 Pieces(21) Piece Wallace Sterling Grande Baroque Pattern Flatware-forks,spoons,knivesSet Of 8 Sterling Silver Tiffany & Co Dinner Forks English King Pat 1885 MAlvin Sterling Silver 925 Flatware Set Chateau Rose 68 Pieces Weighs 2994 Grams4 Antique Hallmarked Sterling Silver Serving Spoon Taster Ladle 9.35 Troy OzRare Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Bucket Cream Ladle Persian 1872Reed & Barton 18th. Century Sterling Silverware Set, 8 Person, 4 PieceHuge 135-pc Lunt Treasure "early American" Sterling Silver Flatware Set Mono MHuge 90pc Antique Danish Sterling Silver Flatware Set, Shell, King, Denmark 98ozAntique D & H No.10 Sterling Silver Cake,pie,pastry Server,chrysanthemum,duhmeSet Of 8 Sterling Silver Tiffany & Co Butter Knives English King Pat 1885 MGorham Sterling Silver Flatware Set, Strasbourg, 1897, Service For 12, Nice !!Great Set Of 12 Stieff Williamsburg Restoration Sterling Silver Butter KnivesSet Of 8 Sterling Silver Tiffany & Co Demitasse Spoons English King Pat 1885 MSet Of 8 Sterling Silver Tiffany & Co Oyster Forks English King Pat 1885 M Durgin Gorham Fairfax Cold Meat Serving Fork Sterling No Monogram17-pc 19c Sheffield English Sterling Silver Flatware W/ Mother Of Pearl HandlesAntique Danish Modern 830 Sterling Spoon Fork Ladle Cohr, Lohne, Koren Dahl, K HSterling Silver Chantilly Gorham No Monogram Dinner Fork Lot Of 4 Four 72 Pc Wallace Sterling "rose Point" Pattern Silverware 12 Place Setting W/ ChestSet Of 4 Sterling Silver Tiffany & Co Soup Spoons English King Pat 1885 M1867 Henry John Lias Sterling Silver Silverware Set With Box.3 Strasbourg By Gorham Sterling Cream Soup SpoonsChantilly - Gorham - Service For 10 - No MonogramsGreat Set Of 14 Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Soup Spoons Francis 1 Pattern (h)5 Antique Sterling Silver Serving Spoons, Manchester Gorham Howard J.e CaldwellGreat Set Of 6 Williamsburg Restoration Pattern Sterling Silver Steak Knives3 King Richard By Towle Sterling Cream Soup SpoonsSet Of 12 Alvin Raleigh Sterling Silver 6 Inch Teaspoons! No Reserve!Reed & Barton Sterling Silverware Classic RoseGreat Set Of 14 Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Salad Forks Francis 1 Pattern (i)Rare Vtg 1971 Reed & Barton "18th Century" Sterling Silver 5pc Place Setting Nr!Antique Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver Fish Knife In The Audubon Pattern Great Set Of 12 Steiff Williamsburg Restoration Sterling Silver Dinner Knives4 King Richard By Towle Sterling Iced TeaspoonsStrasbourg - Gorham - Service For 12 - No Monograms (lot #3)Exquisite Set Of 10 Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Olive Forks Francis 1 Pat (d)7 Reed Barton Marlborough Sterling Silver Round Soup Cream Spoon No Mono 249 Gr4 Strasbourg By Gorham Sterling Cream Soup Spoons Lunt Sterling Silver American Victorian 1941 Pat (12) Butter Spreaders *555.2gr*Gorham Chantilly Sterling Baby Spoon & Fork No MonoAntique Sterling Silver Napkin Ring4 6 1/2" Sterling Silver Gorham Chantilly Salad Forks. No ReserveLot Of 6 Watson Olympia Sterling Salt Spoons2 Reed And Barton Francis I Sterling Iced Teaspoons 7 5/8"Sterling Silver Toast Tongs Very Ornate Old Estate 6 Inch 1.42 TozLot 4 Vintage Navajo Hand Stamped Sterling Silver Long Iced Tea Spoons | J Tx72 Piece Gorham Sterling Flatware Set, Strasbourg Pattern, Service For 1266 Pc .set Of Alvin Sterling Chapel Bells Flatware 66.35 Troy Ozs. Scrap Or Not4 Reed And Barton Francis I Sterling Iced TeaspoonsSharp Set Of 8 Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Steak Knives Francis 1 Pattern (g)Anique Sterling Silver Reed Barton Francis I Pierced Spoon And Tea Spoon