One of my passions is sterling silver flatware - it doesn't fall far from the tree if you know anything about my mother. But I digress.
I have started an extensive collection of different pieces of sterling flatware in patterns by American silversmiths, especially in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. I am trying to piece together a set consisting of 8-12 place settings with the place pieces being in as many patterns as possible. Keep in mind, there are over 40 different pieces for each place setting. And, no, all those pieces are never on the table at one time. A proper place setting only has three pieces to the right and left of each plate with one or two above.
Of course "your" foot man removes your pieces between courses and replaces them with the proper pieces for the next course. An example would be if the first course was a soup, your soup spoon (be it cream, gumbo, or bouillon - depending on the dish) would be removed with your bowl. The second course may be oysters or seafood, you would find either of those forks already on the table above your place. When your oyster or seafood plate was removed, you may be served with a small dish of sorbet - to cleanse the palette - and a sorbet spoon would be placed to the right of your plate.
When that was removed and the main course was served, you would find the proper knife and fork were (most likely) part of the original setting when you were seated. They would be a game knife and fork (if venison or some other game meat were the main course), steak knife and steak fork (for steak) or dinner knife and dinner fork (for most other fare). The round robin of silverware would continue as ice cream, pastries, cake, coffee, (hot) chocolate, and iced tea were served. Then there are the pieces for luncheon, afternoon tea and coffee, pieces for children, and pieces for babies. This does not even touch all the various spoons, forks, servers, tongs, shears, scoops, and ladles, that are the serving pieces and in all the various sizes.
How daunting the thought, I am moving along and, so far, have 90 different patterns and over 100 pieces.
All that said, for my birthday my DH took me to Charleston to a wonderful antique store that specializes in fine sterling to select a piece to add to my collection. The lady in the store spent over an hour with me moving from case to case discussing different pieces and patterns. Many of the patterns I was familiar with and had seen, some I knew of but had only seen pictures of, and some I did not recognize. There were serving pieces, such fish serving sets - the knife and the fork - which can cost as much as $800 and $900 each. Then there were salt spoons for as little as $25. Needless to say I had a grand time.
In trying to help me decide what I wanted, the lady was pulling out unique pieces and patterns she thought I would like to add to my collection. She showed me a set on nut picks. No, I told her, I did not have any. She had a set of three, each in a different pattern. As I was showing them to my DH, she came over to us smiling.
She put four sterling oblong objects on the counter. "Do you know what these are?"
I was truly stumped. I looked them over closely, noting that the pattern, although simple, looked vaguely familiar. "I haven't a clue."
"They are corn spears," she said. "You put them in the ears of corn so you can hold the corn without getting your hands messy."
"Now I've seen it all," my DH said laughing.
In all my research I had never seen or ever seen reference to such a piece. She commented that neither had she until these came in but she had done some research and they are included in many patterns. In the end I came home with the nut picks.
My DH always comments that the Victorians never met a dish, food, or condiment that they did not have a sterling place piece and serving piece for, but even the corn spears surprised him. I had to agree.