Century Tiffany & Co. Pitcher. Circa 1871.
Pitcher has paneled sides, and repousse design
with shells, scrolls and flowers. Top edge is
repousse arrowhead leaf design.
From about 1840 to somewhere around 1940 in the
United States and Europe, sterling silver flatware
became de rigueur when setting a proper table.
In fact, there was a marked increase in the number
of silver companies that emerged during that period.
The height of the silver craze was during the
50-year period from 1870 to 1920. Flatware lines
during this period sometimes included up to 100
different types of pieces. In conjunction with
this, the dinner went from three courses to sometimes
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 often 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 often elaborately decorated
and pierced and embellished with ivory, and could
include any or all of the following: 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.
Flatware sets were often accompanied by 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.
In fact, 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).
A number of factors converged to make sterling
fall out of favor around the time of World War
II. The cost of labor rose (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.