Sterling Silver Flatware Sizes & Trivia

By Paula Kirwan


Dec. 13, 2016 Way back when, it was definitely “the thing” to register for china, crystal and sterling flatware when you became engaged.  As a very young bride-to-be many years ago, I followed that tradition and went to the leading department store in our town with my mother, and under the guidance of the patient lady in charge of the bridal registry, I chose my patterns. 

Have I used any of it over the years?  Yes, for occasional holiday dinners and a few special dinner parties, especially in the early years of my marriage.  I don’t use them anymore, as I have gravitated toward more informal entertaining.  As a matter of fact, according to various bridal registry stores, today’s brides-to-be rarely register for formal dinner ware, and in particular, they don’t choose sterling or silverplate flatware.  Instead, they opt for stainless cutlery, but I think that I, as well as they, are losing out by not using silver.  (Photo, right: Francis I, the most popular pattern ever produced by Reed and Barton.)

There is something elegant about the soft patina of silver.  It not only adds the look of style and ceremony to a table scape, it evokes a sense of special effort to treat family and friends as if they were honored guests.  There are even people who pamper themselves by using their sterling flatware every day, citing a “why not?” attitude. 

Although I don’t have a lot of it in my booth at GasLamp, I’m definitely attracted to vintage silverware.  On one of my recent excursions, I came across a set of old silverplate flatware that caught my eye.  Besides having a lovely Art Deco pattern, the shape of the pieces intrigued me.  I did a little research and found that this set is a size that I had never heard of, called “grille” or “viande”, depending on which manufacturer produced it.  The knives and forks are characterized by elongated handles and short knife blades and fork tines.  This size was introduced during the 1930s and remained popular for just a few years. (Photo, left: Viande service set Oneida in the 1937 Caprice pattern).

Sterling and silverplate flatware, particularly in older sets, is available in several sizes:  Luncheon, Place, Dinner and Continental (also called European).  Luncheon size knives are about 8 ¾” and the forks are about 7”.  Place size flatware, which is found in most American households, has knives that are about 9” and dinner forks about 7 ½”.  Dinner size flatware is slightly larger, with 9 ¾” knives and 8” dinner forks.  Continental size is the largest, with knives that are 10 ½” and dinner forks that are 8 ½”.  These sizes are approximate and generally accurate, but they might differ slightly depending on the pattern and manufacturer.  It is also interesting to note that some, but not all, patterns were made in two or three of these sizes, so be aware of that if you are collecting, replacing or adding to old sterling or silverplate sets. (Photo, right: A serving fork from Shell and Thread, a classic fiddle-shaped pattern designed by Tiffany & Co. in 1905.)

I like the idea of using my sterling every day, or at least more often, but I’ve been reluctant because of my perceived notion that I would be constantly polishing it.  I’ve recently found out some interesting things that have eased my mind.  The first revelation was that if you use your silver regularly, it doesn’t need polishing too often.  Washing silver after using it is also easier than I thought.  While many people promote hand washing, others put sterling in the dishwasher.  There are, however, some guidelines to follow if the dishwasher is used, such as not putting silver in the same load as stainless pieces because there is some interaction between the two metals.  A lot of information is available about the care of silver and silver plate.  Check it out, and I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

If you don’t have wedding or family sterling or silverplate, find a pattern you like and start collecting it.  The search will be a great adventure, and you’ll end up with something to cherish for years to come.


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