English silver spoon (1899)
English silver spoon (1899)

Spoons, knives and forks are known collectively as “flatware”. The name comes from the Middle Ages when table implements consisted of knives and spatula-like implements, called presentoirs, used for presenting portions of food to guests. Unlike spoons and forks, both these types of implement actually were flat. (“Cutlery” refers to all types of cutting implements, originally including swords, razors and cutting tools.)

Silver spoons became common in Europe late in the 16th century. Early spoons have fig-shaped bowls. The most common finials (end of the spoon) were apostles or “seals”, which at first were hexagonal, then oval and finally round before they died out altogether in the 1660s.

From the 1670s, spoons began to be made in different sizes for teaspoons, dessert spoons and table spoons and with long handles for serving spoons.

From the 1680s, the shape of the bowl began to evolve into the modern shape and the end of the spoon took on the so-called treffid shape with three small lobes. This became less pronounced in the 18th century and spoons were made with a reinforcing rib, or “rats tail” running down the length of their stem. This became less pronounced and the bowl became more pointed as the century progressed.

Until about 1760, spoons were placed on the table with the bowl facing down. So, any decoration was on what we now think of as the underside of the spoon.

Forks were introduced to England late in the 17th century (from Italy, where they had been used since the 1500s) and were made in similar styles to the spoons of the period. Up to about 1770, forks had three prongs; thereafter, they usually had four.

Silver-handled knives with steel blades were introduced in the 18th century. Their handles were hollow, filled with resin, and encased in silver which was often very thin. As a result, they were quite fragile and few survive.

In the 19th century, many patterns of silver flatware (mainly sliver-plated) were produced, some very elaborate.

Did you know?

The Puritans in England disapproved of the depictions of religious figures and cut the apostle figures off  spoons and melted them down.

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