Your table is a creative canvas where you can display the treasured silver servingware you’ve gathered over the years, especially during months filled with celebrations, intimate dinner parties and holiday feasts. The tradition of fine dining is once again au courant, and there’s never been a better time for those of us who appreciate a beautifully set table.
Silver, sterling or plate, closely associated with elegant dinner table settings, has a history that goes further back than the gleaming silver we remember from our childhood holiday table. In fact, the tradition of sitting down for an enjoyable meal with family and friends dates back as far as civilization, but dining tables were not set with silver until the early 19th century. During the Renaissance, knives were the primary utensils used during meals, along with a wooden spoon. Forks were introduced as early as the 11th century, but were extremely controversial, scandalous and considered heretical, not gaining widespread favor in Europe until well into the 18th century.
It wasn’t until the 1800s that dining came into “the gilded age” and silver for the table was plentiful. Wealthy hostesses of the 1800s set their tables with lustrous silver serving dishes and a bewildering assortment of flatware. A single place setting at a formal dinner might have included at least eight different forks, eight knives, numerous spoons, a butter pick, game shears, nut picks, asparagus tongs and salts.
What to Collect
Collect what you love and appeals to you, a glorious mix of bowls, tureens, ladles and silverware that pays homage to your personal style. Mixed in with what you already own, these elegant luxuries add glamour to your table’s setting. Collectors love sterling silver because it keeps its value. But a collection of silver plate will bring just as much beauty to your table.
Elegant, sophisticated and long lasting, silver serving bowls, domes and flatware elevate any setting to party status. We have a great advantage over our ancestors in that we can enjoy the beautiful silver pieces they did, but we’re not stuck with their rules. While our grandmother would never mix and match place settings or combine antique silver with contemporary dishes, today we enjoy all the charm antique silver brings to the table, free from those rules.
What to Look For
Quality. Become familiar with high quality. Sterling is almost always marked, either with the word STERLING or the lion passant. Do your research; you can find most sterling makers’ marks on the Internet. Most plated silver from the 1800s is marked Quadruple Plated. If you love a piece and want to use it for serving, but it is corroded inside, consider having a silversmith replace the interior.
Style. Opt for designs you love. Pieces with a logo, monogram or beautiful hand-chased floral engravings add charm. It doesn’t all have to match. If you love it, it will work together.
Condition. Buy silver in good condition. I suggest you buy silver that is pre-polished, especially silver-plate, so way you can see how much loss to the plating there is. Some loss is fine, but most of the silver should be there. Do remember these pieces are often over 100 years old, and will not be perfect. That’s part of their charm.
You can start enjoying antique silver in small ways. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have inherited your grandmother’s silver, or received the gift of a set of six spoons. Set your well-appointed table with pleasure; it will bring people together and provide comfort as well as joy.
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