07 May 2011

Service for Two: Sterling Silver for Modern Times

Growing up, my great-grandmother's silver service accompanied special meals at our home on just a few days of the year, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. It was polished in anticipation of the holidays and masses of tableware had to be hand-washed after large family gatherings ended. Despite the extra effort, it not only made the meals feel special, but also was a pleasure to use and hold. The delicate but weighty tools are crafted for very specific purposes and their design and function is adjusted accordingly: table spoons, soup spoons, sauce spoons, basting spoons, coffee spoons... and the list goes on.

For the reasons mentioned, the current prices of silver and the extreme costs of hand-craftsmanship in the modern economy, sterling tableware seems out of reach and a hassle for most. However, in our house, we've made an effort to make every meal important and special, bringing a small amount of silver that we've collected to the table for ordinary occasions. We've acquired a few key pieces (read: two dinner knives, dinner forks, soup spoons and a handful of serving pieces) with the goal of using it for ourselves, but not for entertaining large groups of people. Mixing and matching patterns also helps to create a more casual tone. When used regularly, silver rarely needs to be polished and maintains a subtle and warm patina that just can't be duplicated by the cold appearance of stainless steel.

The pattern shown here is Acorn by Georg Jensen of Denmark, designed in 1915 by Johan Rohde, and is still in production today. I'm also very partial to the traditional and austere nineteenth century English silver of the general design often referred to as fiddle because of it's nod to the shape of the instrument. Individual pieces or small lots may generally be purchased online or at estate sales for a little above the spot value of the silver, especially at current precious metal prices, but are also driven by the condition and scarcity of each piece. It's certainly not advisable to think of a silver purchase as a hedge against inflation, but it's reassuring to know that silver will always have inherent value beyond its decorative or functional purpose alone.


  1. An especially engaging post, Mark, and what great pictures... How could I have gone without a silver dinner service for so long? On the to do list.

  2. Thanks, Kevin! If I know you, I'm sure you'll pick out something beautiful, so keep me posted.


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