Before the 18th century the only items of table silver made in any quantity were spoons; plates and knives were set on the table, food was cut with the knife and eaten with one’s personal spoon (or fingers).
Silver forks were introduced from France in the mid 17th century but are rare prior to the 18th century.
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With so much effort exerted in the production and presentation of fine food and such artistic flair lavished on the table settings one can easily understand why the hosts and hostesses of today are eager to acquire beautiful silver flatware to complete the picture.
So far I have mentioned knives, forks and spoons together but in antique silver the knives must be treated separately to the forks and spoons.
The term flatware is used to describe knives, forks and spoons that most of us would call cutlery.
The term cutlery should really only be used to describe knives.
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That's why the hallmarks are often squashed and distorted and become more easily rubbed and worn.
From c.1780 onwards the Assay Office stamped table silver near the top of the stem as opposed to on the stem just below the bowl, and hallmarks are generally much clearer because there is more space on which to strike them.
The first documented use of the term "cutler" in Sheffield appeared in a 1297 tax return.
A Sheffield knife was listed in the King's possession in the Tower of London fifty years later.
It is unusual to find sets of table silver dating earlier than the late 18th century. Circa 1700 Price £4,500 A rare set of 12 early silver forks with cannon handles and twin prongs. Three are stamped with the makers mark of SE in an oval punch. 1712 LAWRENCE JONES Price £395 A pair of early English silver spoons in the popular Hanoverian rat-tail pattern.