10 Bizarre Types of Antique Flatware You Never Knew Existed
When it comes to hosting, you could say Southerners are well seasoned. We can set a table, prep a menu, and fold a napkin just as well as anyone. But even with all the stops we pull out, we'd still be outdone by our well-to-do ancestors in the 19th century. Suppertimes during the Victorian era—which one might call the heyday of formal dining—were full-on productions, with more courses and more tabletop accoutrement than you might expect at a royal feast. Excess? Perhaps. Or, by serving up place settings with spoons, knives, and forks for every ingredient under the sun, did the Victorians have it right? We dug up some of the more obscure pieces of flatware and cutlery commonly used at old-school dinner tables so you can decide for yourself.
We all most likely keep a pair of multipurpose scissors in the kitchen, but keeping a designated pair on hand for—of all things—grapes? At upper-class 19th century dining tables, that was exactly the case. At the time, a bowl of grapes was a common shareable dish, but to pull the fruit directly from the stem with your hands was considered unmannerly. Thus, ornate silver shears worthy of displaying at formal affairs were invented specifically as a means of cutting the fruit directly from the stem. While the practice continued into the early 20th century, today, grape scissors are merely collectibles, retailing anywhere from $30 to several hundred dollars.
Buy it: 1800s Silver-Plated Grape Scissors, $59; etsy.com
Saratoga Chips Server
While they might be a no-frills staple at every backyard barbecue and tailgate party today, potato chips were a new and exciting invention in the 19th century. According to one legend, the salty, deep-fried crisps were invented at a restaurant frequented by well-to-dos in Saratoga Springs, New York, in the 1850s. Soon, diners started dishing them up at their own tables accompanied by fancy silver servers manufactured by the likes of Tiffany & Co. Today, these rare pieces can retail for several thousand dollars.
Buy it: Tiffany & Co. Chrysanthemum Saratoga Chips Server, $3,395; etsy.com
Why buy something to do the job a simple knife can do? According to inventor C.J. Schneider, who patented the food breaker in the 1930s, his tined cutter results in more even, crumb-free portions, particularly with cloud-like confections such as angel food cake. (Now this is something we can get behind.) The breaker caught on through the midcentury, and was even sold by major brands like Hostess.
Buy it: Hostess Cake Breaker, $20; etsy.com
While tongs for serving asparagus isn't such an outlandish idea, keeping tongs specifically for serving asparagus is classic Victorian. While not all asparagus servers came in tong-form, they were a popular option, with some made slimmer and more delicate for cradling a single stalk and others more robust for grabbing a bundle.
Buy it: 1920s Asparagus Tongs, $25; etsy.com
There's no better solution for keeping soiled hands out of the bread basket than offering a utensil as mesmerizing as this. These over-the-top three-pronged bread servers, often adorned with ornate decoration and resembling a trident, were used for piercing slices to transport from basket (or fine serving dish) to plate. As you'd expect, the more show-stopping the design, the higher the price tag.
Buy it: Sterling Silver Victorian Bread Fork, $109; etsy.com
Bon Bon Scoop
While being able to sit on the couch scarfing peanut butter cups is a privilege we may take for granted today, in the 1800s, the chocolate industry was still in its infancy. In the latter part of the century, "bon bons," as the French called the delectable truffles, were commonly given as gifts or served at formal dinners. Naturally, chocolates had their own distinct set of silvers, including special serving baskets and spoons to keep the melty goodness from dirtying one's fingers.
Buy it: Dutch Sterling Silver Bon Bon Scoop, $150; etsy.com
It was in the 1860s when a duo from Dijon, France, by the names of Grey and Poupon first whipped up their recipe for an elevated version of mustard. Suddenly, the centuries-old condiment churned out from its namesake seed was an accompaniment worthy of dishing out in style. Around the same time, mustard ladles started popping up on Victorian tables and, despite their moniker, they were often used for serving other fine condiments as well.
Buy it: Wendell Sterling Silver Mustard Ladle, $45; etsy.com
At the Victorian table, you can expect a special serving utensil for every dish—and that includes the lemon slices that accompany teatime. These miniature forks had a distinctive design, with the outer tines splayed out in a curve. We couldn't tell you why, but it sure makes for an interesting tabletop accessory.
Buy it: Antique Weidlich Lemon Fork, $32; etsy.com
Ice Cream Slicer
Before the scoop became the preferred server of choice for creamy frozen desserts, the slicer reigned supreme. In the mid-19th century, advances in technology suddenly made ice cream a luxury available to the masses, and the silver industry quickly responded. At the time, the slicer was especially poised to cater to the era's popular ice cream-based desserts, such as Neopolitan and Baked Alaska.
Buy it: Antique Durgin Gorham & Co. Ice Cream Slicer, $895; etsy.com
Folding Fruit Knife
If you're an outdoorsman or an angler, pocket knives might be useful to have on hand for a myriad of reasons. If you're a high-society gentleman of the Victorian era, a pocket knife is a necessity for no other purpose than skewering the occasional wild apple. During this time, folding fruit knives were a sort of fashion accessory, with shiny silver blades and intricately decorated handles commonly crafted of Mother of Pearl. Because of their ornate appearance, the tiny knives were often given as gifts.
Buy it: Silver Mother of Pearl 1832 Fruit Knife, $210; etsy.com