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In many parts of the world food is eaten with the fingers and in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and parts of Thailand chopsticks are normally used. The first item of cutlery was a spoon which was made of fired clay (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1974), out of which both the spoon bowl and the handle were formed, or of wood (Helfrich-Dörner, 1959). Other materials used were bone, ivory and mussel shells. Later spoons were also produced from various metals, such as bronze, copper or iron. The spoon as we know it today gained its shape around the year 1760.

The first knives were used for cutting, hunting and for providing a form of defence. They were shaped from stones, in particular flint, bones and mussels. The materials for the blade changed in the course of the years, first bronze, then in addition copper, iron and later steel, were all used. From around 1200 cutlery manufacturing locations began to appear, including that in Solingen, Germany, which produced richly decorated blades with handles made of valuable materials, such as silver, gold, ivory, ebony, agate, amber or even marble. The forging of knives became an art whose quality was strictly monitored. Particularly well-known were the Italian cutlers of the 16th and 17the century. Knives were initially pointed, so that food could also be skewered with the blade, but these were later rounded off. According to anecdotal sources the French cardinal Richelieu gave the order for the points of the knives to be ground down, because he was disgusted with the habit of his guests of cleaning their teeth with the point of their knife after a meal. In the 18th century James Reaves began the first casting of knife blades from iron in 1781 in Chesterfield and in 1809 William Bell succeeded in producing rolled knife blades. The mechanical production of cutlery had begun.

Cutlery blanks
Figure 1: Cutlery blanks from the company Krupp from the 19th century

The use of a fork as an item of cutlery is, when compared with the spoon and knife, a virtually modern invention. The first forks only had one tip, the Romans later gave them two . The forks were not used for eating but for holding hot meat or also for serving. It was a long time before the fork came into widespread use as a tool for eating. In Germany the use of a fork initially was regarded as a form of effeminacy and of luxury. For Hildegard von Bingen (around 1098 - 1179) the use of a fork even represented a mockery of God and she was not alone with her opinion, because in French and later in Scottish convents its use was forbidden as a sin. The land of origin of the dinner fork in Western Europe is regarded as being Italy where it was first referred to at the end of the 13th century. From there it spread across Europe. In 1379 the first forks appeared in the inventory of King Charles V of France. It is said that the first forks were brought to England in 1608 and in 1781 James Reaves began casting forks from iron, in addition to the knife blades which he already produced. In 1841 the Danzig jeweller, C. Damm, invented a process for rolling forks and in 1843 the Krupp company presented a cutlery roller system with which spoons and forks could be mass-produced. The fork became an everyday object. Dennert's Encyclopaedia for Conversation of 1910 writes on the subject of its usage: "As a dinner fork with 3 – 5 prongs, in general use for about 30 years..."


Cutlery is not simply shaped so that it fits comfortably in a person's hand, the weight should be evenly distributed across its length. A well balanced fork, a spoon or a knife can be held more easily in the hand.


Stainless steel

Extremely widespread today and an ideal form of cutlery for daily use due to its many advantages. It is inexpensive, is not attacked by the acidic and alkaline substances normally contained in food and is suitable for dish-washing machines (corrosion-resistant). The range is so varied that there is always a suitable form of cutlery for every type of event. There is a risk with cutlery made of chromium steel that it will rust or tarnish as a result of exposure to hard water. Significantly more common is melchior, a rust-free alloy of nickel-chromium steel.

Cutlery with a non-metallic handle consists of a stainless steel blade which sits in a plastic, wooden, horn or ceramic handle. Significantly more rarely found are handles made of pearl or bone. Ivory is hardly used any longer for the manufacture of handles since the trade embargo of 1989. With badly made cutlery with a non-metallic handle there is the risk that the handle will separate from the blade. Cutlery with a wooden handle is not dishwasher-safe.


As pure silver is too soft, an alloy with a less precious metal, generally copper, is used. The purity is a mark of the share of the chemically pure silver in the alloy. Sterling silver has the highest level of purity with a proportion of 925 pure silver parts out of 1000 (or 92.5%). In some European countries an alloy with a pure content of 800 is designated as "genuine silver". Genuine silver may be recognised by the pure content which is engraved with a stamp (800 or 925 for sterling silver).

Silver coating

Significantly less expensive is silver-plated cutlery; here a thin coat of silver is applied to another metal. The core may be made of stainless steel or German silver, an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc. In such cases the number on the stamp signifies the amount of silver in grams which was used for 12 forks and 12 spoons. If a 90 is on the engraved stamp, then 90g of pure silver have been applied to 12 forks and 12 spoons. Above a quantity of 150g pure silver it is known as massive silver-plating

Gold plating

As gold plating is very expensive, only a small part of most cutlery, for instance the decorative pattern, is gold plated. The core for fully gold-plated cutlery consists of nickel-chromium steel or genuine silver.


Porcelain has the great advantage that it is tasteless and is not attacked by the acids present in food. Today various kinds of spoons (e.g. egg, coffee or soup spoons), sauce spoons (Figure 23), cake servers and butter knives are still made of "white gold".


In East Germany cutlery was also produced from aluminium. Due to its low weight this is still normal for camping cutlery.

Cutlery service

The basic form of a cutlery service today is a dinner set (Figure 2) which consists of a knife, a fork with four prongs and a soup spoon. The dinner set is smaller and easier to handle than the flatware service (Figure 3) which was once more common, but it is larger than a dessert cutlery set. A dessert cutlery set includes a dessert knife, a dessert fork and a dessert spoon or small spoon. In addition to this, there are many special cutlery services which were adjusted in their material and shape to various forms of food. Thus, a steak knife (Figure 4) has a sharp blade, mostly with a serrated edge, with which it is easy to cut meat. A fish knife (Figure 5), on the other hand, has a blunt blade with which the fish can be cut up and the skin of the fish is easy to remove.
If silver (or also tin) comes into contact with food which contains proteins or acids, chemical process lead to the creation of an unpleasant metallic taste. A breakfast egg does not taste good when eaten with a silver spoon and for this reason egg spoons (Figure 9) are made of plastic, pearl, horn, porcelain or bone.

In order to illustrate the proportions the cutlery services were photographed from the same height and then reduced in size by the same amount (In the mobile view the pictures are hidden).

Dinner set Flatware service
Figure 2: Dinner set Figure 3: Flatware service

Steak service Fish service Lobster service
Figure 4: Steak service Figure 5: Fish service Figure 6: Lobster service; the lobster tongs are for breaking open the claws and joints both of lobsters and also of craw fish, crabs and shrimps.
Dessert spoon Mocca spoon / Espresso spoon Egg spoon
Figure 7: Dessert spoon Figure 8: Mocca spoon / Espresso spoon Figure 9: Egg spoon
Lemonade spoon Grapefruit spoon Cake fork
Figure 10: Lemonade spoon Figure 11: Grapefruit spoons have a serrated edge on the tip with which the flesh of the fruit can be prized out. Figure 12: Cake fork
fruit / cake knife Breakfast knife  
Figure 13: A fruit / cake knife, together with a fruit / cake fork can be found in a fruit / cake service. Figure 14: Breakfast knife; bread rolls and bread can be cut using the serrated edge.  

Serving cutlery

Cold meat forks Honey spoon
Figure 15: Cold meat forks Figure 16: Honey spoons can be hung on the edge of the honey jar so that the remaining honey can drip off.
olive spoon Sugar tongs
Figure 17: Olive spoon Figure 18: Sugar tongs
Salad cutlery Tongs for salad or spaghetti
Figure 19: Salad cutlery Figure 20: Tongs for salad or spaghetti
Spaghetti spoon Meat fork
Figure 21: Spaghetti spoon Figure 22: Meat fork
Serving spoon Soup ladle
Figure 23: Serving spoon (stainless steel, silver plated) Figure 24: Soup ladle
Sauce ladle Sauce ladle (porcelain)
Figure 25: Sauce ladle / sauce spoon (stainless steel) Figure 26: Sauce ladle / sauce spoon (porcelain)
Cake server  
Figure 27: Cake server / cake slice  


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