Brief History of Cutlery: One of the Most Important Kitchen Items

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Verica Sitnik
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Cutlery was ordinarily known as flatware or silverware. The term silverware, point to the material it is made from, so the term tableware is more commonly used to avoid confusion, because the material was very rarely silver – only the wealthy could afford silver.

The cutlery ‘family’ contains all the items used in eating, preparing, and serving food.

In the Western world this usually includes spoon, knife and fork, but also there are many different eating implements, such as spork, spife, and knork which are combination of all of the above.

A set od Georgian era, silver cutlery including ladles and serving spoons. Photo Credit

Spork, a combination of spoon and fork. Photo Credit

 

An old cutlery silver set. Photo Credit

Sporf, is a combination of  a spoon, a knife and a fork. Spork or foon is a spoon-like shallow scoop with two to four fork tines. Spife is a combination of a spoon and of a knife. Knork is half-knife, half-fork design. The etymology of the word “cutlery” comes from the Old French word “coutelier” (knife). The origins of the word is coming from the first documented use of the term “cutler”, in 1297, in Sheffield.

Fork and spoon for a salad made from ivory and silver dates from half of 19th century.

 

A pocket knife made in the United States of America. Photo Credit

Cutlery can be made from many different materials. Historically, sterling silver was the traditional material that had the advantage over other metals. Good quality cutlery must be made from metals which are less chemically reactive, because it can lead to unpleasant tastes. It can also be made from gold, it is less reactive than silver, but is too expensive and only the monarchs could afford it.

Museum des Deutschen Ordens, set of cutlery with a teaspoon. Photo Credit

 

Vintage cutlery with decorations. Photo Credit

A good sterling silver set would contained  lettuce fork,  a gravy ladle, mustard spoon, tea spoon, forks for dessert and many other items. The French aristocrat Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, owned  set in sterling silver, made by Towle Manufacturing Company, which showed his wealthy position.

French traveling set of cutlery from the 16th century. Photo Credit

 

A collection of vintage cutlery. Photo Credit

Steel was used for making knives, and pewter was used for spoons. Of course these materials are far cheaper than silver and gold. Electroplated nickel silver was used as a cheaper substitute for silver and gold cutlery in the 19th century – it was for the mass market.  Harry Brearley, was a British  metallurgist, and he discovered stainless steel in 1913 and it is what we mainly use for cutlery today.

German National Museum in Nuremberg, cutlery with sharpening steel, 17th-18th century. Photo Credit

 

Wedding cutlery set, made in Sheffield. Photo Credit

For centuries, cutlery was made all around the world, but the leading place where it was made was in Sheffield in northern Britain. The first reference of cutlery production in Sheffield was in 1297. In 1340, amongst the possessions of King Edward III a knife was found which was made in Sheffield. It’s one of the every day items that has a long long past.