Sterling Silver cutlery these days is almost a rareity outside of some of the fine
establishments of the gentry and the wealthy or in the upmarket antique stores.
Changes in materials, manufacturing tecniques and societal attitudes have all played a part in
the demise of Sterling Silver Cutlery as explained in detail in this article rrom Wikipedia, the free
encyclopedia, - text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Cutlery refers to any hand implement used in preparing, serving, and especially eating
food in the Western world. A "cutler" is a person who makes or
sells cutlery. The city of Sheffield in England has been famous for the
production of cutlery since the 17th century and a train - the Master Cutler - running from
Sheffield to London was named after the industry.
Cutlery is more usually known as silverware or flatware in the United States, where cutlery usually means
knives and related cutting instruments. Although the term silverware is used irrespective of the
material composition of the utensils, the term tableware has come into use to avoid the
implication that they are made of silver.
The major items of cutlery in the Western world are the knife, fork and spoon. In recent times, hybrid versions of cutlery have
been made combining the functionality of different eating implements, including the spork (spoon / fork),
spife (spoon / knife), and
knork (knife / fork) or the
sporf which is all three.
The word cutler derives from the Middle English word 'cuteler' and this in turn
derives from Old French 'coutelier' which comes from 'coutel';
meaning knife (modern French: couteau).
Modern starch-polyester disposable cutlery
Traditionally, good quality cutlery was made from silver (hence the U.S. name), though steel was always used for more utilitarian knives, and
pewter was used for some cheaper items, especially
spoons. From the nineteenth century, electroplated nickel silver (EPNS)
was used as a cheaper substitute; nowadays, most cutlery, including quality designs, is made from
stainless steel. Another alternative is
melchior, a nickel and copper alloy, which
can also sometimes contain manganese. It also contains elements of magnesium and copper sulphate.
Plastic cutlery is made for disposable use, and is
frequently used outdoors (camping, excursions, and BBQs for instance), at fast-food or take-away outlets, or provided with airline meals. Wooden disposable cutlery is also available as a
The first documented use of the term "cutler" in Sheffield appeared in a 1297 tax return. A Sheffield
knife was listed in the King's possession in the Tower of London fifty years later. Several
knives dating from the 14th century are on display at the Cutlers' Hall in Sheffield.
Cutlery has been made in many places. In Britain the industry became concentrated by the
late 16th century in and around Birmingham and Sheffield. However, the Birmingham
industry increasingly concentrated on swords, made by "long cutlers", and on other edged tools,
whereas the Sheffield industry concentrated on knives.
At Sheffield the trade of cutler became divided, with allied trades such as razormaker, awlbladesmith, shearsmith and forkmaker emerging
and becoming distinct trades by the 18th century.
Before the mid 19th century when cheap mild steel became available due to new methods of
steelmaking, knives (and other edged tools) were
made by welding a strip of steel on to the piece of iron that was to be formed into a knife, or
sandwiching a strip of steel between two pieces of iron. This was done because steel was then a much
more expensive commodity than iron. Modern blades are sometimes laminated, but for a different reason.
Since the hardest steel is brittle, a layer of hard steel may be laid between two layers of a milder,
less brittle steel, for a blade that keeps a sharp edge well, and is less likely to break in
After fabrication, the knife had to be sharpened, originally on a grindstone, but from the late medieval period in a
blade mill or (as they were known in the Sheffield
region) a cutlers wheel.
Traditional centres of cutlery-making include:
- Hey, D. The Fiery Blades of Hallamshire: Sheffield and Its Neighbourhood, 1660–1740
(Leicester University Press 1991). 193–140.
- Lloyd, G. I. H. The Cutlery Trades: An Historical Essay in the Economics of Small Scale
Production. (1913; repr. 1968).