Silverware Patterns a Hundred Years Ago

Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)
Source: Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)

Selecting silverware or other flatware is very personal, yet an indication of preferences and tastes. Before I got married I can remember agonizing over which pattern to select. Today, the decision might be easier since most people purchase inexpensive stainless steel flatware, but the design still gives clues to the buyer’s personality. Some styles are very formal and traditional; others informal and trendy.ย  Similarly, a hundred-years-ago people wanted to select the “right” silverware.

Here’s some excerpts of the advice in a hundred-year-old home economics textbook:

Silver and plated silver for knives, forks, and spoons, coffee and tea sets, all add to the charm of the table. Figure 70 shows some good designs in spoons. A simple design is easy to clean.

Three sizes of spoons, tablespoons, teaspoons, and coffee spoons, and two sizes of forks are all sufficient, with a few larger spoons for service and desserts.

Triple-plated ware lasts for years, if well cared for, and comes in good designs.

Pewter, familiar in olden days, is being used again in Colonial designs, and makes an attractive tea or coffee set, is less costly than solid silver, and has a better tone and color than plated ware.

Foods and Household Management: A Textbook of the Household Arts (1915)

Source: Oneida Silverware Advertisement in Ladies Home Journal (May, 1916)
Source: Oneida Silverware Advertisement in Ladies Home Journal (May, 1916)


46 thoughts on “Silverware Patterns a Hundred Years Ago

  1. I vaguely remember my mother’s silver. My husband has his grandmother’s set and we use that for holidays. When I and my friends got married back in the 70s and 80s we did not pick out silver patterns. Do brides still do this? Interesting. I like your posts. Kitchen and cooking history is one of those domestic arts that is neglected these days.

    1. Like you, my sense is that many brides don’t pick out silver patterns any more. I have a lot of fun doing this blog, and it’s wonderful to hear that you enjoy the posts.

  2. I’m sure some of these patterns are very collectible nowadays! I only picked out a stainless steel pattern for my wedding, but my mom still has my grandmother’s silver and china.

    1. I have my grandparents china, but I seldom use it. It has gold trim and seems very fragile. I always worry that I might somehow damage it.

      1. Go ahead and use it. There is a replacement service on line that you can find pieces if you break one. It is the same with silver plate flatware.

  3. This is interesting. My sister and I have two sets of silver, one belonged to our grandmother, the other to her sister. They are the fine silver sets used at holiday dinners during our childhood. I remember them from when we were young and sat around grandma or Hazel’s dinner table. I even have the dish set my grandma used with the same silver. Brings back great memories. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. We really are, Sheryl. There are so many items, many dating back to the mid 1800s (that would be an autograph book). It’s the letters that have stolen my heart. I’m overwhelmed, but happily so. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. So do I. ๐Ÿ™‚ I actually wondered what a “hard to clean” piece of silverware would look like. I’m thinking that it would have lots of detail that would be hard to polish – but maybe the author was referring to silver that was difficult to wash (though I can’t quite picture what it would look like).

      1. They would clean them with a soft cloth and ashes from tobacco back then. They did have silver polish but the ashes was free and worked well most of the time.

  4. Yikes – pewter! Wasn’t that made with lead? I inherited my mother in law’s silver plated set but the fact it tarnishes means I’ve barely used it๐Ÿ˜•

    1. Whew, I’m not sure what pewter is made from–but I sure hope it’s not lead. I also have a silver plated set that I seldom use. Just the thought of having to polish it, makes me use my stainless steel flatware when I have guests over.

  5. Oh, I remember picking out patterns. Don’t know if brides do this now. I use stainless steel for every day but have silver for holidays and special occasions. I don’t know who will want my silver. All is casual these days but I try to keep up some things.

  6. I have a wonderful set of old silverware that belonged to the woman who lived next door when I was a child. She was like a grandmother to me and she left many of her cherished possessions to my mother. I feel very blessed to have the cutlery and also a lovely ring that had been her grandmother’s.

    1. You should see the rest of that set. That was either a serving spoon or a sugar spoon. I have collected about 8 sets for family members over the years as gifts and that was one of the sets. It can be pricey now. When I was collecting it was not expensive because there was plenty of it around.

      1. Wow! I had no idea it was still available. How neat. I’ll have to keep my eye out. I’d love to have a set, my grandpa was born in 1916, the year pictured above in the ad.

        Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I do appreciate that so much! ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. Watch on eBay. You can get 8 to 12 place setting set for around $200. Another set that is just as interesting spoon bowls is Ambassador and it is very common and a little cheaper. It had a very long production run for about 15 years. It is from the same time period.

  7. I have my mother’s silver, and I use it on a regular basis. Silver actually develops a nice, soft patina with use, and I love the connection with the past it offers. Since I have her silver chest, too, tarnish isn’t much of a problem. Hand-washing and a dry with a nice, soft towel does just fine. Hers was International, and it’s just lovely — almost the same as the second from the right in the photo above.

    1. I like how you use it regularly. In my opinion, family heirlooms are more meaningful when they are used and not hidden away in an attempt to preserve them.

  8. When I moved to Florida 20 years ago, silver plate was plentiful in the thrift shops. The WWII generation that owned so much of it was aging out and family members didn’t want the old tarnished pieces to ship back home. I would entertain myself every weekend with a $20 bill to a small lunch and dig around the thrift shops for tea sets, serving pieces and flatware. I never paid more then 3 or 4 dollars for anything. After awhile you can actually judge the tarnish and what shape the silver is under it. This was before eBay. I bought a book with the most common patterns so I could date and ID the patterns I found. I would clean them up. They would always separate the flatware from their tarnish proof boxes, so I had to find those too. For the tea sets and platters I made tarnish proof bags from Pacific Cloth. My local fabric store carried it and I think bought most of it. You can get it on line now.

    I know it sounds like a lot of work but I enjoyed the collecting of something that was cheap and very pretty. Then when eBay came along, and I was able to finish the sets of flatware with the missing pieces. Most of the time the set ended up with extra pieces. I gave my nieces when they married each both flatware and larger pieces for a formal table. They seemed to love it. There isn’t much around now in the “wild” as collectors call thrift stores and house sales. You now have to pay dealers prices for it.

    I have a miss matched odd stuff of silver plated flatware I use everyday. With daily use it don’t tarnish much. I clean about twice a year. It is the same thing with special pieces, you need to use it often and it will stay nice. Just be gentle with how you handle it and clean it.

    Before WWI flatware was sold mostly in small boxes of 8 spoons or forks. This increased the sales of it and made owning it easier. So sometimes I would find sets with several different patterns that was similar in design. Silver flatware was also given as premiums for selling magazines subscriptions to friends. You could earn a set of teaspoons or a ladle by selling a subscription to Priscilla Magazine. That also made for some interesting sets of flatware that I am very sure the ladies were proud to use. These patterns are hard to ID because they were short run productions for premium marketing. Major department stores would also have their own patterns named after them. One set I had found that was very pretty took me forever to ID it and it was name Wentworth after the store that sold it. I was actually able to complete that set. These mixed sets I found pennies on the dollar because they didn’t match. Cleaned up they were real treasures.

    One more thing, there was 2 types of finishes in silver plate before WWI. There was the shiny finish that most of it is that has survived and a mat grey finish that looked like coin silver from the 19th century. Usually I only saw the mat grey in pie servers and large spoons.

    1. I’ve learned a lot about silver plate from reading your wonderful comment. Thank you for making the time to share all of this great information. It sounds like so much fun to collect silver. You gave your nieces some wonderful treasures. They are lucky to have an aunt like you. I’ve always loved flea markets and thrift shops. It’s too bad that there isn’t much silver plate in the “wild” anymore.

  9. I remember choosing my silver. I still have it but it is rarely used. I could have done with this advice ; took me so long to decide what to get!

    1. Though there’s something to be said for being young and taking lots of time to ponder (big?) decisions like which silver pattern to choose. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I don’t remember if either one of my grandmas had silverware. My dad’s mama had a lovely stainless steel set with a beautiful box to keep it in. I always loved opening it to help her the table.

    1. I also remember how opening the box to get the good flatware out to set the table for holiday meals. Somehow it made those dinners seem special.

    1. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way, but you’re absolutely right. I wonder what leads to relatively rapid change in preferences at a certain point in time.

  11. Hi. When I was a teenager, mom had me work at my hope chest. One of the things I did was send for sample Oneida teaspoons and they are today my favourite spoons … They were 50 cents to a dollar for each spoon. I can still identify the patterns: shadow rose, revere, and so on. I am sure I encountered most of the patterns in your photo when I was a kid and I still have some odd pieces of those too.

    1. It’s interesting how people used to be able to order sample spoons. It’s amazing that you still have, and use, those spoons.

  12. What a great post, Sheryl! We have a beautiful stainless steel set. When we got married, it did not occur to me to go for silver, but we still took a long time over choosing which service to get!

    1. I’m glad you liked the post. I remember it being kind of fun to make flatware pattern decisions and stoneware dish decisions.

  13. When my first son was to marry I went into a department store to inquire about a silver cutlery set as I thought that it would be something he and his wife could treasure and pass down through their generations. Apart from the fact that I was too late (as it would have taken months to order and ship from England to Australia), it would have cost $12,000! Even silver plated would have cost $8,000. Needless to say, I did get them something in silver (something much smaller) and a contribution towards their home instead which I felt was a higher priority for that sort of money. However, I now know how treasured the pieces of ‘family heirloom’ silver that remain within my family truly are.

    1. Whew, I never would have guessed how expensive silver cutlery is. I think that you make a wise decision to contribute to their home instead.

  14. I love to look for old silverware on local antique markets. So far I havenยดt found a personal favorite type of silverware to buy, but its always exciting to “hunt” for the perfect objects with their own story…

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