A century of dining regalia: the silver craze of 1840 to 1940

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Between the years from 1840 to 1940 in the United States and Europe, sterling silver flatware became de rigueur when setting a proper table. Which resulted in a marked increase in the number of silver companies that emerged during the period.

The height of the silver craze was during the 50-year period from 1870 to 1920. Flatware lines during this period included up to 100 different types of pieces. In conjunction with this, the dinner went from three courses to ten or more. There was a soup course, a salad course, a fruit course, a cheese course, an antipasto course, a fish course, the main course and a pastry or dessert course.

Individual eating implements included forks (dinner fork, place fork, salad fork, pastry fork, shrimp or cocktail fork), spoons (teaspoon, coffee spoon, demitasse spoon, bouillon spoon, gumbo soup spoon, iced tea spoon) and knives (dinner knife, place knife, butter spreader, fruit knife, cheese knife). This was especially true during the Victorian time period, when etiquette dictated that nothing should be touched with one's fingers.

Serving pieces were elaborately decorated and pierced and embellished with ivory. There were carving knife and fork, salad knife and fork, cold meat fork, punch ladle, soup ladle, gravy ladle, casserole serving spoon, berry spoon, lasagna server, macaroni server, asparagus server, cucumber server, tomato server, olive spoon, cheese scoop, fish knife and fork, pastry server, petit four server, cake knife, bon bon spoon, tiny salt spoon, sugar sifter or caster and crumb remover with brush.

As well as flatware sets there were tea services, hot water pots, chocolate pots, trays and salvers, goblets, demitasse cups and saucers, liqueur cups, bouillon cups, egg cups, sterling plates, napkin rings, water and wine pitchers and coasters, candelabra and even elaborate centerpieces.

The craze with sterling even extended to business (sterling page clips, mechanical pencils, letter openers, calling card boxes, cigarette cases), to the boudoir (sterling dresser trays, mirrors, hair and suit brushes, pill bottles, manicure sets, shoehorns, perfume bottles, powder bottles, hair clips) and even to children (cups, flatware, rattles, christening sets).

The popularity of sterling silver began to diminish around the time of World War II. The cost of labour rose and this greatly increased the price as sterling pieces were all still mostly hand-made, with only the basics being done by machine. Only the wealthy could afford the large number of servants required for fancy dining with ten courses. And changes in aesthetics resulted in people desiring simpler dinnerware that was easier to clean.

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