The vintage case shown here contains six knives designed for eating fish and six forks. The fashion for having separate cutlery for fish dates from Victorian times, when the ‘middle classes’ sought to impress guests. At this time the serving of different courses became established with different cutlery for each course. At the most elaborate of banquets up to 22 different sets of cutlery might have been used. The fish knife would have been made from silver, or at least silver plate and with a bone handle. It was believed that a cheaper metal would tarnish following contact with the fish.

The shape of the knife blades followed a common pattern. The blades were flat, with one rounded edge for sliding between the skin and the flesh of the fish or the flesh and the bones and for lifting the flesh to the fork. The tip was pointed to aid the removal of small bones. The blade would also be decorated, ranging from elaborate marine images to simpler scrolls. The forks were more varied in design, with between three and five tines and usually wider near the handle than the tip. They would be designed to match the knives. The introduction of stainless steel allowed the manufacture of cheaper cutlery, so sets of fish knives as gifts survived long after the Victorian age, whilst retaining the general design features.

The knives in the case shown have handles that are so uniform in colour and markings that they are more likely to be moulded from bakelite, or another plastic than made from bone. No hallmarks have been photographed, which could suggest the metal used is steel, but there is some discolouration on the forks which might indicate they are made of epns ( Electroplated nickel silver). The case is substantial, possibly light wood with a rexine covering and with an attractive lining. The set would probably have been sold as a gift and most likely produced between 1930 and the late 1950s.

More information:

Date 1930s, 1940s, 1950s
Material(s) SilverSteelPlasticWood
Item number MBPO69

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • When have you given or received a cutlery set as a gift?
  • Do you still use separate knives and forks for eating fish?
  • Do you have everyday cutlery and cutlery for special occasions? Please give details
  • If you had a four course meal, including a fish course, how would the cutlery be laid out on the table for each diner?

User Stories

Hidden away in a drawer I still have this box of fish knives and forks in a more sleek ‘modern’ design from the 1960s. We are still using other cutlery from this range almost 60 years later, but the fish cutlery languishes unloved in the dark!

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