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A Buyer’s Guide to Cutlery

Before You Buy…

Silver, steel, plate, modern or traditional? It pays to think before you fork out (quite literally). You can, of course, pick up perfectly useable cutlery cheaply and easily at most department stores and supermarkets. But if you feel it’s time to upgrade to something a little more luxurious, then consider how much you would like to spend, the type of design that appeals to you and, finally, how many place settings you are likely to need. Sets of cutlery can range from £10 to £10,000, so make sure you fix your budget before you begin shopping. Bear in mind that if you choose a design that’s available in single pieces, you can always add to your service bit by bit, which can be a more affordable way to build your collection.

Materials: What to Choose
There are three basic options: stainless steel, silver plate and sterling silver (which is generally made to order). Each has its own benefits, but costs vary greatly.

•80 per cent of cutlery is 18/10 stainless steel, an alloy of iron with chrome and nickel added to make it corrosion resistant. This combination makes it suitable for use in dishwashers, so convenient for everyday use. Stainless-steel cutlery generally comes in a wider range of designs than silver-plated cutlery.
•Silver doesn’t react with most foods and is resistant to staining and corrosion, so it’s particularly suitable for cutlery. However, because it is a soft metal, it’s not suitable for knife blades, which will be made out of stainless steel, unless antique. Both sterling silver and plated cutlery will require polishing every so often.
•Resin handles have replaced bone (which are now illegal) and these are dishwasher safe, whereas bone handles can only be bought as second-hand pieces and should always be hand washed.

Which design should I go for?

The design you choose is, of course, largely based on your own style and taste, but all the experts agree that touching and holding the cutlery is an absolute must. ‘Choosing cutlery is a very personal thing,’ says Holly Verrill at David Mellor. ‘Most people like heavier cutlery, but it’s all about personal preference.’ If you decide on a contemporary design, remember that modern pieces should still be easy to use. ‘Our designers take home models to test them,’ says Tony Miles at Richardson Sheffield. ‘The feel of the cutlery is all-important – it must be functional as well as stylish.’
•Consider how well the design will stand the test of time, as there’s no point splashing out if it’s going to look dated in a few years.
•If a design is discontinued then it will be difficult to source extra items as replacements or accessories to build on your collection.
To avoid this, choose a modern classic like David Mellor’s Pride range.

If you prefer a traditional pattern, you can go for a newly manufactured service, which will allow you to choose the quantity and types of pieces you want, or a second-hand or antique set.

•Traditional, or ‘Parrish’ patterns as they are known, include Rattail, which dates from the 1700s, Bead, Old English, Fiddle and Kings, to name but a few, and are often the types handed down over generations. These generic patterns have no patent, therefore can be produced by any company, and are still very popular today.

Buying Antique – What to Look For
Second-hand items can be less expensive and better quality than new ones, and often have an element of history, too. ‘A fun way to build up a canteen is buying it piecemeal, either in sets of six or by buying single pieces at a time. More common patterns can be picked up cheaply at car-boot sales and antiques fairs,’ says Gary Bottomley, of silversmith company Reign Beau Ltd, specialists in buying and selling antique silver. Try Portobello Market, Alfie’s Antique Market or a specialist dealer for bigger sets.
•Condition is probably the most important criterion when buying an old canteen. The tines on forks should be equal lengths and the spoons should retain their original shape and not have sharp tips.
•Look out for crisp decoration on the more elaborate patterns (eg Kings), as this will make it more valuable.
•Second-hand, silver-plated canteens are plentiful, but may be damaged. Breathe on vulnerable areas (eg the back of the bowls or tines) to reveal any differing colour of the underlying metal.

How much cutlery should I buy?

‘The rise of the single household means that the amount of cutlery people buy is less determined by the number of people in the house and more by how many times the dishwasher is loaded before the clean stuff runs out,’ explains Tony Miles at Richardson Sheffield. ‘People buy place settings by this factor as much as family size’. With this in mind, think about how many place settings and what components you require. Do you entertain often or are your eating arrangements a more casual affair? Do you really need a full service or will it just end up collecting dust? Why waste valuable space on soup spoons if you never serve soup? However, if you do lay a formal table, then stocking up could be a good investment. Rachelle Blindt at John Lewis says, ‘If you have people round for dinner on a regular basis, buy two sets of knives and forks so you won’t have to wash up between courses. Similarly, if you’re always losing teaspoons, buy 12 instead of eight.’ For this reason, designs that allow you to buy individual components are a good idea – you can also replace the odd spoon or fork that will inevitably go astray.

Care and Cleaning

Washing by hand is by far the best way to clean all cutlery, but very few people have the time or the patience for it. As a result, most flatware, including silver, is now dishwasher safe, but there are still a few rules to follow:
•Avoid soaking your cutlery as mineral salts in the water can attack the surface of the metal.
•Remove stainless steel from the dishwasher promptly as it is prone to corrosion if left in a moist atmosphere.
•Avoid prolonged contact with very hot fat, salt, vinegar, egg, tomato sauce, acidic fruits and wine, as these can cause surface blemishes.
•Stainless steel can’t rust, but it can pick up marks from steel wool or non-stainless-steel implements.
•Never mix silverware with stainless steel in the wash as it can cause a chemical reaction and leave stains.
•Never use silver polish on stainless steel.
• After you have cleaned off silver polish, wash the pieces in warm soapy water before using.
•Keep silver and plated cutlery in an air-tight container or in a special anti-tarnish roll when not in use.
•Some areas of silver cutlery tarnish faster than the rest of the piece as they are in direct contact with food, so mainly polish these bits.

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