Many people are attracted to the beauty and quality of antique English silver flatware but finding a complete matching service can be difficult. In the 18th and early 19th century, original flatware designs were not registered (in fact many of them were simply copied from French patterns). Consequently there were hundreds of silversmiths all making the same patterns. It was not unusual for a set to be acquired over a period of years from one or more silversmiths. Over the generations these sets were often broken up into smaller sets and/ or pieces were added or replaced.
Types of antique English flatware services:
Today it is quite rare to find a complete antique English flatware service where every piece was made by the same silversmith in the same year. A straight set will have identical hallmarks on every piece. The vast majority of English silver flatware services are assembled or mixed sets, in which the pattern is the same but the pieces have been made by different manufacturers at different times.
When acquiring an assembled service it is desirable to find pieces which are as similar as possible in terms of size, weight and appearance and also in terms of age, origin and maker.
The degree of weight that one attributes to any of these factors is a matter of preference.
A good assembled service should look like it belongs together when you lay it on the table and it should have many pieces with similar or matching hallmarks.
There are relatively few patterns that are commonly found and most of them are derivations of only three basic shapes.
– Old English pattern was designed in the 1760s and has remained popular ever since. There are many variations of this pattern, some of which are fairly common such as Old English Thread, Bead, and Bright Cut.
– Copied from an earlier French pattern, Fiddle pattern arrived in England shortly after 1800 and was the most common pattern made in the 19th century. It inspired several popular offshoots such as Fiddle Thread, Fiddle Thread and Shell and Fiddle Shell.
– Introduced in the early 19th century (based on an 18th century French design), this shape started out as the Hourglass pattern and then quickly developed into the much more popular Kings pattern, Queens pattern and others such as Honeysuckle and Kings Husk.
There are many other less common patterns that were made. See Silver Flatware: English Irish and Scottish 1660-1980 by Ian Pickford for more information.
Upturn vs. Downturn:
After 1770 it was traditional to lay the fork face down on the table and the spoon face up. As a result, the shape of the handles of spoons and forks are slightly different.
When laid face up on the table (the modern way), the bottom end of the spoon handle turns down toward the table and the bottom end of the fork handle turns up and away from the table.
The family crest is normally engraved on the front of the spoon and on the back of the fork. By the later half of the 19th century forks were being laid face up but the shape of the handle remained the same until the 20th century.
Antique English flatware services come with seven standard pieces: 2 forks, 3 spoons and 2 knives.
– Table Forks (known as dinner forks in North America) are typically about 8” in length and 2.5- 3 troy ounces in weight. (That is about 1/2” longer and 40-50% heavier than a modern dinner fork) They are used for the main course. Dessert Forks are approximately 7” (the same size as a North American luncheon or place fork) and are commonly used for desserts, salads, or starters.
– Tablespoons are approximately 8.5” in length; they were originally used for soups and stews but today they are commonly used for serving. Dessert Spoons have an oval bowl and are typically 7”, intended for desserts but they get used for just about everything. Teaspoons vary from 5 to 6” and as the name suggests they are for tea although they are also suitable for delicate desserts.
– In the 18th and 19th century knives were made by a cutler rather than a silversmith and were usually purchased independently from the rest of the service. With carbon steel blades and either ivory or filled silver handles and they were not built to last. As a result it is difficult, if not impossible, to find sets of antique silver knives in fine condition. Standard practice today is to use modern knives with silver handles and stainless steel blades as an alternative to antique knives. We carry brand new sterling silver knives made in Sheffield available in traditional patterns to match antique flatware sets.
A complete service should have a Table (Dinner) Knife and a Dessert Knife, although English sets did occasionally include butter knives as well.
– Unlike American flatware sets antique English flatware sets came with a relatively small variety of serving utensils. The most common are the soup ladle, gravy ladle, stuffing or basting spoon (approximately 12”), butter knife, salt spoon. Extensive sets may have had some of the less common pieces as well such as fish slices, asparagus tongs, ice cream spades, grape shears, etc.