Cutlery has not always been used when eating. People originally ate with their hands. Everyone ate with their hands regardless of social class. Kings, Queens, the rich, and the poor all ate with their hands. It was considered proper to eat with ones hands, and the early Catholic church deemed eating with ones hands as being holy. However, the creation of cutlery sets divided the upper and lower classes in the way they ate their meals.
Of course in early western societies people did not completely eat with their hands. They ate with the assistance of spoons and knives, which were the earliest eating utensils. Spoons and knives did not originate in a particular culture. It just seemed to be a natural instinct in humans to create them.
The Spoon And Knife
The spoons were mainly used for stirring and mixing when cooking. The most common way to make spoons was to carve them from wood. When people discovered metal and how to melt it they used the metal to make spoons. During early times spoons were being made of gold and silver to use to eat stews and soups. The poor and the common people, however, continued to use wooden spoons.
Knives were a general purpose tool. A single knife was a tool, a weapon, and an utensil for preparing, serving, and eating food. Knives were made to be narrow, pointed, and sharp. Early knives were made from sharpen flat rocks. Later they were made of metal. A person would carry his own personal knife in a sheath attached to his belt. When eating, the knife was used to spear food and raise it to one's mouth to eat.(refer to www.hospitalityguild.com)
In the 16th century knives were considered to be a threat at the dinner table. In 1669 King Louis XIV of France decreed that all pointed tips of knives be rounded. The rounding of knife points led to the creation of the dinner knife, which has a completely round tip. The rounding of the knife also led to the uses of the fork which was originally designed with two tines. As a result, the fork was used to hold the food while the rounded dinner knife cut it. Then the fork was used to spear the food and place it in ones mouth.(refer to www.hospitalityguild.com)
Cutlery For The Rich
It is recorded in history that the fork was first introduced to Europe by a Byzatium Princess. She had traveled to Venice and brought with her a case of two tined forks made of gold. Instead of eating with her fingers she ate with her fork because she did not want to get her fingers sticky. The news of the Princess eating with the fork instead of her fingers caused an uproar among the upperclass, the lower-class, and the church. (Refer to www.wideopendoors.net)
However, eating with a fork appealed to the upperclass and the royals. Eating with a fork along with the uses of a dinner knife and a spoon gave the upperclass and the royals a sense of refinement, prestige, and good manners. Eating with ones hands was considered common, crude, and ill mannered. The new rules of eating etiquette required using a fork, spoon, and knife. (Refer to www.wideopendoors.net)
Impressed with the new etiquette of eating, the royals and the upperclass had their own personal cutlery sets made. A cutlery set consisted of a fork, a table knife, and a spoon. The eating utensils were elaborately made of gold or silver with decorative designs and engravings. When traveling or when invited out to dinner the upperclass and royals carried their personalized cutlery sets to use. (Refer to www.wideopendoors.net)
Cutlery sets were valued as highly as fine jewelry. The upperclass and the royals valued their cutlery to the extent the cutlery was mentioned in detail in their wills. For instance the will of John Baret of Bury St. Edmunds in 1463 states that Barets silver fork should go to Davn John Kerteyoge. The jewel house inventory of King Henry VIII included a silver gilded spoon and fork. King Henry VII inventory of property included a case of knives and forks with crystal and chalcedony handles and gold ends. The possession and proper use of cutlery were important symbols of owners wealth, breeding, and status. (Refer to Peter Brown of Magazine Antiques Sept, 2001)
Cutlery For The Masses
Early cutlery sets were made by skilled craftsmen who used expensive materials such as gold and silver and who made elaborate art designs on their cutlery. Their work was so detailed and time consuming, which made the finished product very expensive. As a result cutlery could only be purchased by the rich. The lower-class could not afford the cutlery sets. The common and the lower-class continued to use spoons, which could easily be made of wood, and ordinary knives, which were cheap to buy. Thus the classes were distinguished in the way they ate. (Refer to www.canadacutlery.com)
However, the industrial revolution brought a change to cutlery production by replacing cutlery craftsmen with cutlery factories. These factories were able to perform mass production of cutlery within a short period of time. Cheaper lower quality metals and a standard design made cutlery more affordable. Common people and the lower-class were then able to have proper eating ware as well as the rich. Like the rich, the common and lower-class people who used cutlery sets considered themselves as having good manners and refinement. They looked down on other common and lower-class people who did not use them. (Refer to www.canadacutlery.com)
Now in our modern times it is common for everyone to eat their meals using forks, spoons and table knives. All restaurants provide them for customers. Disposable plastic cutlery is made for uses on picnics. Even 'soup kitchens', which provide daily meals to the homeless and extreme poor, provide cutlery for the people they serve to use. Everyone from the rich to the poor can enjoy good eating etiquette now. The upperclass and the lower-class are once again united in the way they eat.
"Seventh-Century English cutlery For The Rich Man's Table", Peter Brown, Magazine Antiques, Sept. 2001