Bygone Treasures - Cutlery, Crockery and Peas in a Row

By Michael Rice

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I’ve mastered boil-in-a-bag and can zap frozen vegetables like a top chef, but I don’t always get full marks for plating and presentation.

Lining up the peas in soldierly rows next to the instant mashed spuds and the eagerly anticipated three sausages takes a skill that warrants more accolades than I seem to receive. So, leaving aside my injured pride, I thought I’d look at the cutlery and crockery that help turn dinner into the daily grand event.

Dinnerware sets abound. Even in recent years, supermarkets would offer plates at a dollar ...for the first one...and then charge much more for the rest. Hands up all of you who have a solitary plate that doesn’t match anything else in your cupboard, and has a Shop-Easy sticker on the bottom. Hmm... more of you than I thought. What should you serve on this? A plant pot would be nice.

At the other end of the dish line comes that huge china set that’s been passed down for generations in all its chipped glory, and which is guaranteed not dishwasher safe. Such older sets are often a service for 12, along with all the serving stuff.

Check the larger and less-often-used pieces for chips, cracks, worn patterns and scorch marks. These have only sentimental value, or residual use as skeet shooting targets. Items in nice condition like platters, gravy boats, tureens and covered dishes have value to both collectors and to individuals trying to complete a set or replace damaged pieces.

Most silverware isn’t silver, but rather a base metal alloy that’s been silverplated. Sterling silver will be hallmarked or stamped 925 or “sterling.”

Continental European silver often has lower silver content and may be marked 800 or 720. Some European pieces are stamped 90, and a common mistake is to think this means 90 per cent silver. It means the pieces are nine per cent silver (90/1000).

Sterling objects, even damaged ones, can be sold for silver value. While forks and spoons are an easy sell, knives have steel blades and filler in the handles, leaving only a thin shell of silver to be recovered.

Larger silver pieces such as soup ladles, basting spoons, sugar tongs and sauce boats, and small silver pieces such as salt spoons, condiment spoons, napkin rings and butter knives are worth more than melt value.

Silver items with monograms or initials engraved on them are less desirable, while those with engraved designs or illustrations are more so. As an example, I have a delightful butter knife hallmarked in the 1880s with a songbird engraved on its blade, which I treasure. It works well for lining up peas in soldierly rows.

If you have older china or older silver pieces and would like to learn a bit about them and their current values, bring along a small side plate or a fork and spoon to the Seniors Expo. I’ll be at my usual booth valuing and chatting about all sorts of small sized old and interesting items and am happy to help. There’s no charge for this, but you must promise to eat all your vegetables.


Comments and suggestions for future colums are welcome and can be sent to Michael Rice, PO Box 86, Saanichton, BC V8M 2C3 or email to

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