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]

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]

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 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    

Vintage Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Set For 12 Plus Extras! 74 Pcs.Wallace Sterling Silver Flatware Grand Baroque Service For 12 136 PiecesAntique S. Kirk & Son Repousse Sterling TeapotSet 8 Sterling Silver 925 Round 6 1/8" Mid Century Modern Bread Dessert Plates67 Old International Wedding Bells Sterling Silver Flatware Set Rogers Scrap Nr!6 Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Cream Soup Spoon Lion Anchor & G Mark No MonoVintage Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Teaspoons Set Of 12Vintage English 1848 Sterling Silver 3 Piece Decorative Knife Fork Tea Spoon Set62pc Sterling Silver Grand Baroque Wallace Place Service Setting Over 119.00ozt49 Pc Wallace Sterling Silver Flatware Set, Grande Baroque Pattern, 2,440 GramsVintage Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Teaspoons Set Of 128 Gorham Durgin Fairfax Sterling Silver Citrus Spoons , No MonoFrancis 1st Sterling Silver Flatware 10 Cocktail Forks Reed & BartonAntique Tiffany & Co. Sterling Silver Holly Pattern Demitasse Shrimp Fork C.1894Antique Frank M. Whiting #4993 Sterling Silver Tea Strainer 5 & 1/2" 21gmTowle Sterling Silver Flatware Set, Old Master, 1942, 1540.3 Grams, Beautiful!6 Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Iced Teaspoons Lion Anchor & G Marked No Mono6 Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Dinner Forks Lion Anchor & G Marked No MonoFine 1885 Antique Whiting Twist Ii Heavy 11" Sterling Silver Punch Ladle 146g59 Piece Alvin Chased Romantique Sterling Silverware Set - Service For 811 Piece Set, Gorham Chantilly, Sterling Silver, Monogram "m", No Reserve,Antique Whiting Mfg. Sterling Silver Flatware Forks Spoons 392 Grams Not Scrap8 Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Salad Forks Lion Anchor & G Marked No Mono(5) Sterling Silver Knives ~~ Art Nouveau Floral Handles ~~ Carnations ?4 Wallace Sterling Silver Grand Baroque Soup Spoons, Mint, In Original Packaging8 Towle Sterling Silver Silver Flutes 7 7/8" Ice Tea Spoons 7.86 Troy Oz 19416 Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Individual Butter Knives Lion Anchor & G MarkVintage Tiffany & Co. Mint Julep Spoon W/ Leaf Bowl & Long Straw Sterling SilverAntique Steiff Rose Repousse Sterling Silver 2 Pc Knife Fork Carving Set No RsvVintage "towle" El Grandee Sterling Silver 4 Piece Place Setting Nr Lot #2Antique Kirk Sons Rose Repousse Sterling Silver Cake Pie Server No Rsv6 Vintage Georg Jensen Acorn Spoons Sterling Silver 1915 Flatware SilverwareVintage Sterling Silver Serving Spoon & Fork Set 1850s Hand Chased & ReticulatedReed & Barton Rose Pattern Sterling Silver Sugar Scoop Spoon Server J BiLot Of Scrap Sterling Silver Silverware Pieces 12.40ozt/385.9gSet Of 6 Gorham Sterling Silver 6 1/2 Inch Wine Goblets 80 Grams Each Times SixSet Of 6 Antique International Frontenac Sterling Silver Cocktail Forks 135gm5 Whiting Louis Xv Sterling Silver Large Round Bowl Gumbo 6-3/4" Soup Spoons3 Large Gorham Chantilly Sterling Silver Serving Spoons Lion Anchor & G Marked8 Gorham Fairfax Sterling Silver Tea / Table Spoons , No MonoSet Of 4 Antique International Frontenac Sterling Silver Butter Knives 104gmNice Lot 8 Sterling Silver Canada Enamel Souviner Spoons 83 Grams Scrap Or NotGorham Chantilly Sterling Baby Set Fork SpoonSet Of Four Gorham Chantilly Pattern Sterling Silver Demitasse Spoons 4 1/8"Antique Georgian Shell Set Of 6 Sterling Silver 1800s Meat Forks93 Pieces Estate St Cloud Gorham Sterling Flatware 1885 Incl Rare Pieces 165 Oz12 Towle Sterling Silver Silver Flutes 7 3/8" Dinner Forks 18.08 Troy Oz 1941Early Old Colonial Towle Solid Sterling Silver Ladle 10 5/8-14" Nm Dupont Estate6 Gorham Durgin Fairfax Sterling Silver Ice Cream Forks , No Mono6 Gorham Fairfax Sterling Silver Bullion Spoons , No MonoAntique Norwegian Sterling Silver Saucier Gravy Ladle Serving Spoon Not Scrap55gVintage Westmoreland Sterling Silver .925 Lot Of Six Mixed ItemsSet Of 17 Antique International Frontenac Sterling Silver Forks 7 & 1/4" 790gm12 Towle Sterling Silver Silver Flutes 6 1/2" Salad Forks 15.13 Troy Oz 194111 Piece Set, Towle Rambler Rose, Sterling Silver, No Mono, No ReserveLot Of 10 Reed & Baron La Perle 1902 Sterling Silver Teaspoon Spoons 7.48 OuncesAntique Boxed Gaston Ballanger Toulouse 5 Pc Serving Set French Sterling SilverGorham Sterling Silver Chantilly Flatware Set Of Spoon Salad Dinner Fork & KnifeVintage Westmoreland Sterling Silver .925 Lot Of Five SpoonsCartier Dessert/fruit Fork Set Pattern Crt8 Sterling Silver 925 Scroll Tip