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    

52 Pcs Vintage Towle Sterling Silver Flatware Set Old Mirror 8 Settings Many New48pc Vintage Alvin Bridal Bouquet Repousse Sterling Silver 6pc Dinner Set For 8Vintage Wallace Stradivari Sterling Silver Flatware Set 112 Pieces Total! W/case6 Antique Whiting Sterling Silver Lily Of The Valley Teaspoons Spoons, NrReed & Barton Vintage Francis I Sterling Silver 85 Piece Dinner Size SettingTowle French Provincial Sterling Silver Flatware Set - 61 Pieces - Post 1940Vintage Sterling Silver Tea Infuser Strainer With Hinged Bowl, Side Handle, 32 GTowle Old Colonial Sterling Asparagus Serving Tongs 9" Set 6 Antique Gorham 1897 Lancaster Sterling Silver Hollow Handle Knife Knives6 Madame Royale By Durgin 1897 Sterling 155g Ornate Bowl Grapefruit Spoons 5 7/8Vintage Sterling Grande Baroque Service For 12 W13 Serving 73 Pieces 154 Oz NrLot 5 Norway 925s Norwegian Sterling Silver Enameled Petite Spoons & Forks 68gLarge Old Wallace Grand Baroque Sterling Silver Flatware Set Heavy Servers FullAntique Whiting Sterling Lily Of The Valley Art Nouveau Candy Nut Almond BowlEstate Found Wallace Grand Baroque Sterling Silver Service Four Flatware SetRare Nos! Reed & Barton Francis I Pattern Sterling Handled 4 Piece Carving Set99 Cent Auction! 5 Gorham Versailles Sterling Silver 4 7/8" Ice Cream Forks-113gAntique Frontenac Pattern Sterling Silver Master Berry Serving Spoon NrSet Of Antique Webster Co Peter Rabbit Sterling Silver Baby Fork, Spoon & Knife6 Durgin Gorham Fairfax Sterling Silver Salad Forks Antique Nouveau Lot 28 Sterling Silver Salt Spoons Cupids Shells Bird's Nest +++127 Pc Gorham Sterling Silver Flatware Set Fairfax Pattern. 5,552 Grams R1175David-andersen Guilloche Enamel And Sterling Demitasse Spoons New111pc Set Of Stunning Danish 830 S Silver Flatware Set - CopenhagenSet 4 Antique Alvin Sterling Silver Bridal Rose 5 7/8" Teaspoon Spoon UtensilsArt Deco Sterling Silver Scandinavian Enamel Guilloche Demitasse Spoon 6p Set Nr6 Vintage Sterling Silver Japanese Iced Tea Spoons W/bamboo Stems In BoxWebster Ornate Floral Sterling Silver Overlay & Glass Trivet 8''Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Flatware Set, 1965, Spanish Baroque, 1420.1 GramsTowle - King Richard - Sterling Flatware - 23 Piece SetTiffany & Co Sterling Silver Spoons, Knives Forks, Serving, 51 Pieces Lot2 Reed & Barton Francis I Sterling Silver Soup/cream Spoons 6" No MonogramVintage Gorham Sterling Silver Flatware Set 72 Pc Camellia Service For 12 Nr Reed Barton Sterling 18th Eighteenth Century Setting, 4 PiecesFive 5 Large Victorian Whiting Sterling Silver Floral Lily Serving Table SpoonsTiffany & Co Sterling Silver 2 Pc Cheese Serving Set In Original Box! Not EngravSet 6 Antique Wood & Hughes Sterling Silver Angelo 1875 Demitasse Teaspoon Spoon60 Pc Lady Hinton Westmorland Sterling Silver 8 Place Setting 11 Serving 1570 GrWallace Grande Baroque Pattern, Sterling Silver, Soup Spoons, Lot Of 4Durgin Chrysanthemum Sterling Pie ServerA F Towle / Lunt - Enid / Chatelaine Pattern Sterling Silver Asparagus ServerSterling Silver Tea Spoons Straws Shell Design .925 Vintage 56 Grams 99 Cent Auction! 12 Gorham Versailles Sterling Silver 5 3/4" Oyster Forks-297gSterling Silver Flatware Lot Scrap Resale 411.7 Grams Monogrammed PiecesWallace Grande Baroque, Sterling Silver, Soup Spoons, Lot Of 64 Antique Whiting Sterling Silver Pompadour 1895 Demitasse Spoons Gold Wash BowlGeorg Jensen Acorn Sterling Silver Serving Spoon, Fork & KnifeVintage "reed & Barton" Francis 1 Sterling Silver 4 Piece Dinner Setting Nr4 Reed & Barton Francis I Sterling Silver Salad/dessert Forks 6" No Monogram Dansk Tjorn Sterling 180g Sterling 4 Pce Flatware Dinner Set Denmark ModernistUnusual Marshall Fields Sterling Silver Grinning Devil Pickle/seafood Fork Nr4 Whiting Sterling Silver King Edward 1901 Shrimp Cocktail Oyster Seafood Forks6 Madame Royale By Durgin 1897 Sterling 165g Ornate Bowl Grapefruit Spoons 6"8 Reed & Barton Sterling Silver Dinner Knives In "classic Rose" (1954)Towle Sterling Silver Old Master 24 Pieces Flatware 6-4 Piece Setting +boxTiffany & Co. Hampton Pattern Sterling Silver 266.5gr 5 Piece Place Setting29 Pc. Oneida Heirloom Grandeur Sterling Silver Flatware - Forks, Knives, SpoonsGeorg Jensen 8 Demistasse Spoons Denmark Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Design 4"Antique Violet Pattern Sterling Silver 11 1/2 In Fish Server By Wallace Nr12 Chateau Rose By Alvin Sterling 187g Shrimp Pickle Cocktail Forks 5.5” Nr