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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Flatware

Cutlery Set
Image Credit: eltpics, Creative Commons

When you think about flatware, which is something that happens only where you’re buying it or when you’re about to perform the chore of cleaning it, you might notice that, well, there’s not really that much to think about. The spoons and forks and knives we use every day are great, and we’re very lucky to have them, but they’re not all that thought-provoking. If you have a flatware set that’s superbly designed, like the Aava set is, it might spark a thought or two of appreciation, but still, it doesn’t seem there’s that much to know about flatware. But even with a thing that’s as simple as a fork, or a knife, there are always some things you didn’t know that might surprise you.

For instance, did you know that the use of really sharp and pointed knives was at a certain point outlawed in France? The mind behind the decision was the French King Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King. But he wasn’t the first to be displeased with how knives were used back them. The first person who found it disgusting how people used to cut their food with knives, then stab it in order to use their knives in lieu of forks was none other than Cardinal Richelieu, who was a pretty big deal in the court of Louis XIII, the Sun King’s father. Some 30 years before the sharp and pointy knives were outlawed, Richelieu gave the order to file down the sharp points of the knives to the point at which they couldn’t have been used for stabbing. Or picking teeth. What Sun King did, in 1669, was more motivated by the desire to reduce violence, so all knives – kitchen and personal, for every day carry, had to have their pointy tips removed, and their blades dulled.

The dull knives with rounded tips were in a great deal responsible for the method of eating we now know as the zig-zag, or American style of eating. People in Europe, if they want to be all proper and follow the etiquette, will eat with their knives in their right hand, and fork in the left hand. All the time. No switching of the fork between the left and the right hand, as people in the United States do. Well, that method of switching hands came about because with the rounded knives, you couldn’t really stab your food to eat, and you had to hold it down with something to cut it. Because forks weren’t in widespread use in the United States back then, they used a spoon to hold down the food with their left hand, while cutting with the right, and then they would switch the spoon to the right hand in order to scoop up the food. Europeans did the same thing up until the use of fork became widespread. Americans stuck to their guns even after they replaced the spoon with the fork, and that’s why today we have the American style of eating, and the Continental.

Continental is also the name given to a specific size of sterling silver flatware, because sterling silver flatware comes in three almost standardized sizes. Continental, the one that’s most popular in Europe, is the largest, with knives being ten and a half inches long, forks being eight and a half inches long, and soup spoons being slightly over seven and a half inches long. Of course, Europeans will likely convert the inches into centimeters, because they use the metric system of measurements. The dinner size sterling silver flatware is slightly smaller than the continental style – knives are nine and three quarters inches long, forks are eight inches long, and soup spoons are seven inches long. The smallest is the place size flatware, which is mostly popular in the United States. With a nine inches long knife, seven and a half inches long fork and seven inches long soup spoon, it’s also significantly lighter than the continental size flatware. Also, if you bring a tape measure with you when buying sterling silver flatware, you might notice that the actual sizes vary slightly – the numbers given here are averages, meant to show a rough proportion.

And while we’re at the topic of sterling silver flatware, if you own some and you believe it’s 100% silver – you’re wrong. It’s not. If you wanted a 100% silver, the closest you would be able to get would be fine silver, which is 99.9% pure. However, you can’t find fine silver flatware sets you would be able to use because pure silver is too soft. That’s why sterling silver contains 92.5% of silver, with the rest being something that will give it strength, like copper.

For the end, a piece of trivia about flatware you surely didn’t know – the first fork came to America in 1630. It didn’t come there on its own – it was carried there by the Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, a man named Winthrop. It was a lonely fork, however, as the Governor brought only one.

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