Knives are the oldest and most basic of all kitchen utensils. Primitive utility knives were used for almost everything—to hunt and harvest, chop and carve. It was the most important tool anyone could own because of its usefulness.
Not surprisingly, the more one could afford the more ornate the knife. Being so readily available, wood handled versions were the least expensive. Ivory and horn were as prized as trophies and often uniquely carved. But all metal versions were the most expensive using only precious metals. Typically they were monogrammed to identify the proud owner.
Not too far behind, spoons developed as diets evolved. And last, the fork started as a simple two tined—or pronged—utensil used to dig into bones or shells for meat or to rescue it from the cooking fire. Eventually three and four tined versions became standard since they performed better.
As wealth increased in middle and upper classes, homes increased in comfort and home goods were made to address specific tasks. Knives remained prized possessions over other utensils often being stored under lock and key in sturdy wooden boxes to guard against thievery. Typical flatware sets consisted of only simple forks and spoons since knives were custom.
At the height of the Victorian era, dinner courses soared from one to as many as ten and etiquette declared that no foods should be picked up by the fingers so placesettings could include fish knives, berry spoons or lettuce forks.
Spoons became as varied as today’s wine glass shapes with different versions for bouillon and gumbo. Luncheons required their own unique, often smaller, utensils including spoons specific to sugar, various teas and coffees which were being imported from exotic faraway lands.
As new production techniques were developed, silverplating became popular for everyday use while sterling is still for special occasions or formal entertaining. Markings of 18/10 or 18/8 stainless steel refer to the amount of chromium and nickel included. For example, flatware stamped 18/8 combines 18% chromium for durability and hardness with 8% nickel for shine and luster. Lastly, a shiny or matte look is achieved in the final processes by either polishing or brushing the metal.