by Lynne Belluscio
As we go into the holiday season, folks gather around the dining room table for family meals and entertaining. For some people that means bringing out the good china, the silver and cloth napkins.
As a kid, my mother expected me to set the table - the knife and spoon on the right and the salad fork and dinner fork on the left. The butter knife was placed on the salad plate to the left and the water glass above the knife on the right. The cup and saucer was to the right. I never had to worry about a soup spoon because my mother never served soup before dinner. Sometimes we’d use the little cocktail forks for shrimp. And after dinner, I had to collect all the salad forks and wash them because we needed them for dessert. When I was married, I used Green Stamps to acquire my set of silver-plate flatware - a set of twelve. In the 1960s it was a necessary part of setting up housekeeping.
One hundred years earlier, the Victorians needed a lot more silverware to set the holiday table. It seems that they were obsessed with forks and spoons. They also had fish forks and knives, cold meat forks, asparagus
forks, dessert spoons, salt spoons, marrow scoops, and knife rests.
In 1851, Mary Raymond, a student at Ingham University wrote to her mother that Madam Staunton celebrated her wedding anniversary and the students took up a collection and bought her a “splendid silver cake basket, and a pair of beautiful pickle forks.” Her husband gave her a very nice set of dessert spoons.
Although the wealthy could afford sterling silver table settings, average families weren’t able to set silver on the table until the 1840s when silver plate was invented. The silver was plated over Britannia ware, which is a type of pewter. Early silver plate was usually only one layer, but later, for more money you could buy double or triple plate silver. This included table settings as well as “hollowware” - tea sets, trays, water pitchers, bread baskets, card holders, napkin rings, and castor sets.