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    

76pc Gorham Sterling Silver Flatware Serving Utensil Set Buttercup Pattern 104oz96 Pieces Tiffany & Co Sterlin Silver 925 Feather Edge Flatware Set Fork SpoonReed Barton Francis 1 Sterling Silver Flatwareset 12+servers 94 Piece 131 Troyoz32-piece Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Flatware Set, Service For 812 Antique Gorham Imperial Chrysanthemum Sterling Silver Salad Or Dessert ForksSterling Silver Press Button Knife Company Double Blade Fruit Knife1847 Rogers Silverplate Flatware Set, First Love, 1937, Stunning Unused Set !!Wallace Grande Baroque Sterling Tomato ServerGeorg Jensen Acorn Pattern Sterling Silver Set 125 PcsOneida Community Silverplate Flatware Set, Coronation, 1936, Beautiful Pattern !Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver 925 Elsa Peretti Padova Spoon W/ Box & Pouch Nr Mth8 Set 71 Piece Sterling Silver Wallace Grand Baroque Flatware Set 7 Serving PcsAntique Sterling Silver Sewing Repousse Tatting ShuttleWallace Grand Baroque Victorian Roses Sterling Silver Punch Bowl Serving LadleGorham Strasbourg 1897 Sterling Silver 925 Flatware 70 Pieces, Set 12Beautiful Gorham Sterling Silver 925 Louis Xv Ice Cream Or Terrapin Fork K3686Gorham 1897 Strasbourg Pattern Sterling Silver Flatware Mix Set 26 PcsTiffany Sterling Lot, 11 PiecesReed & Barton Francis I 1st 13 All Sterling Butter Spreaders Knives Old MarkReed & Barton Francis I Sterling Silver Serving Fork Spoon 76.7 GramsStunning Lot 15 Sterling Including International Royal DanishWhiting Mfg Co Sterling Silver Lily 1902 Pattern (2) Teaspoons *61.0 Grams*10 X Wallace Grande Baroque Sterling Silver Teaspoon 352.6 Grams 6 1/4 InchesTowle Old Masters Sterling Silver 6 Pc Place Setting Fork Spoon Knife 180 Gms NrAlvin Raphael Sterling Sugar Spoon66 Piece Gorham Buttercup Pattern Flatware "j" Monogram, 8 X 8 Settings. Euc8 Wallace Grande Baroque 6-1/8" Cream Soup Spoons Sterling Silver...no Reserve!6 Antique Gorham Imperial Chrysanthemum Sterling Silver Salad Or Dessert Forks4+4 Antique Sterling Silver Ice Cream Forks & Whiting Serving Spoon ... Nr12 Dozen Antique Gorham American Sterling Versailles Pattern Teaspoons PerfectGeorg Jensen Sterling Silver Sugar Shovel Spoon Cactus PatternTiffany Blackberry Sterling Sifter Ladle15 Pieces Wallace Saxon Sterling Silver FlatwareUnlisted Victorian Era Sterling Silver Gorham Pattern Tea Strainer Nr93 Piece International Royal Danish Sterling Silver Flatware Svc For 12 +extras"reed & Barton" Francis I Sterling Silver 4 Piece Set X 4 W/ Addional Pieces32 Pieces Gorham Sterling Flatware King Edward PatternSet Of 8 Art Nouveau Sterling Citrus Spoons In The Iris Pattern By Durgin 1900A+ Rare English London Sterling Silver 18/19thc Georgian Era Sugar Nips ScissorsA+ Rare English London Sterling Silver 1730's Georgian Era Table Spoon8 Wallace Grande Baroque 7-5/8" Iced Tea Spoons Sterling Silver...no Reserve!4 Gorham Strasbourg Sterling Cocktail ForksGenuine Sterling Silver Tiffany 1984 Elsa Peretti Padova Infant Feeding SpoonPr Antique Tiffany & Co Sterling Silver 925 Wave Edge Solid Serving TablespoonsWhiting Pompadour 1850-1899 Sterling Silver Forks (6 7/8") Set Of 12Gorham Sterling Silver One Tine Butter Pick VersaillesGreat Antique Set Six Gorham Sterling "versailles" Dinner Forks24-piece Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Flatware Set, Service For 4Wallace Sterling Silver Set Wow !!! Grande BaroqueIrving (aka Old Atlanta) - Wallace - Sterling Service For 12 - No MonogramsReed & Barton Francis I 1st Sterling 5 Cream Soup Spoons New MarkLarge 10.25" Georg Jensen Denmark Old Danish Sterling Silver Serving Spoon12 Dozen Antique Gorham American Sterling Versailles Pattern Teaspoons 7.84troy1938 Gorham Sterling Silver Flatware Service For Six - Greenbrier PatternAntique Sterling Silver Tea Spoons Gorham Strasbourg 6 Spoons In Gift Box 1897One Wallace Sterling Salad Fork Violet No Monogram Excellent Condition4 Gorham Sterling Silver Buttercup TeaspoonsWhiting Pompadour 1898 Sterling Silver Set Of 12 Large Dinner ForksReed & Barton Sterling Silver Dinner Fork Francis I * 57.4 Grams *Lunt Sterling Silver Eloquence 1953 Pattern Gravy Ladle *71.8 Grams* No Reserve