January 29, 2008

Fork You!

Apparently, even though I dined with Lords, Ladies and an odd Baroness or two when I lived in the UK, it escaped me that using fish knives and forks is just not done. The House of Beauty and Culture is trying to make me see the error of my ways, but I am not to be shifted and neither is Aesthete's Lament.
Apparently this is rather well-known, as evidenced by this give and take in the Telegraph earlier this month. I thought this comment was hysterical: I have gone so far as to accept subsequent invitations from a couple who actually provided me with an object called a "fish knife" with which to cut up some salmon. I hope I am not boasting too much when I report that I think I successfully concealed my shock and bewilderment from my hosts.
While poking around antique and junque stores, I would find the random French Ivory-handled knife and snap it up. I loved the way the old handles looked and the way they felt in my hand. French Ivory is a synthetic ivory, similar to Bakelite. Most of the pieces I found were marked EPSN, which is electro-plated silvered nickle.
Once I moved to the UK, I found sets of this lovely cutlery everywhere, sometimes for as little as 50p a piece. Some of the sets were in their original boxes and were quite elaborately chased, like the top picture, and others were quite plain, like the pieces on the plaid blanket. I generally bought what I could find and sold it at a handsome profit on ebay.
When I got ready to move back, I realized that I still had about 40 pieces and just shipped it home. I use it as my everyday silver (that noise you hear is House freaking out!). It's quite simple and elegant... but apparently, it's also quite Non-U, as my mother and House say. Oh well!


  1. Great post! I love the UK, they have such great finds and lots of beautiful antiques.

  2. how elegant! As everyday life should be.

  3. Baroness Helena Kennedy, yes. Baroness Eleuthera Roselyne Patricia Pernot du Breuil, not so much.

  4. Oh my, I found a similar set a few years back and passed it up. I thought they had such a wonderful look and feel as well.

  5. Valiant attempt - only one thing beats the Almanach de Gotha, and that is the Doomsday Book.

  6. Very elegant set! And for everyday, well done. My mother-in-law lusts after a mother-of-pearl handled set. I'd "settle" for your ivory one in a heartbeat!

    The fish knife debate is enough to make me grin. My father was adept at filleting a fish with two serving spoons. A talent I wish he'd been able to pass along to me.

  7. A pigtown - don't worry about them - just use your gorgeous fish knives as you wish - I was just using my bone handled knives for chopping cabbage this afternoon!!

  8. But "Martha" says they are just the thing.

  9. If one really is "U", does one really care so much about what is "U" and what isn't? I thought that it was the middle class that cared about such things? Your set is wonderful, and I would use it in a heartbeat if I could find one. Happen to have any good sources?

  10. Katie...good point about not caring. Some of the most U people I know do some of the funkiest things.

    As for the sources for the cutlery, try ebay. I've sold a bunch on there and there are always a couple of sets listed. Try entering fish knives and forks or french ivory knives and forks.

  11. I have several fish sets (bought in British Victoria) and you know what, I don't give a rat's ass what HOBAC think or an other fish-and-chips type thinks. These people still have a monarchy. They should save their disdain and outrage for that.

    Fact is fish sets are beautiful. I use mine because I enjoy looking them, not because I'm trying to live by Victorian conventions.

    I mean, who cares? I certainly wouldn't be taking advice from someone who thinks turning a samovar into a lamp is cool idea.

  12. Thanks for the concern HOBAC. That's mighty kind of you. But didn't you know? In America the fish— just like the chicken—don't have bones. We also grow seedless grapes and raise all-rib pigs. That's right, an entire hog, just made out of ribs. Heck, you can even eat the ribs with your hands. Don't even have to worry about the proper cutlery.

    You see, America is the land of the free. And that means we can use fish forks and knives (to eat ANYTHING we want, by the way, and that includes cookies and Milky Way bars) or no knives at all (hello tacos, ribs, bologna sandwiches, fried chicken). And, of course, we're free to gulp it all down with a 64-ounce cherry Slurpee from 7-11.

    We'd love to liberate you Brits so that you, too, can be free to use Victorian cutlery without shame or fear of faux pas. I'm sure our great president wouldn't mind committing a few thousand troops to overthrow your oppressive monarchy and secure a green zone around Portobello Road. From there it will be "Mission Accomplished" and all that will be left to do will be rounding up insurgents (a.k.a "snobs"). They'll be held in great dining halls, where they'll be forced to eat every meal, including their breakfast porridge, with a vintage fish knife and fork.

    To commemorate the liberation, every single samovar in the land will be melted down to make a 10 story high sculpture of a fish knife and said sculpture will be named after the beloved princess Diana (who, it is well-known, used a fish fork set to overcome her eating disorder).

    [Here where I point my fish knife at you for emphasis.]

    Interesting that you believe that one not giving a rat's ass about your opinion of fish knife use constitutes a personal attack. My guess is either you're posting from London psychiatric ward or Buckingham palace.

  13. Knock it off, Anon... If you want to harangue House, do it on his blog, not on mine!

    FYI, I am British, too. Although I was raised in the US, my father's entire family is there and I carry working papers, the right of abode and a national health card from the UK. Additionally, I lived there up until a bit more than 18 months ago.

    Oh, and the reason I moved there was the contested election of Bush. I'd rather sing "God Save the Queen" than "Hail to the Chief".

  14. Wow, how did I miss this? Geez. I was just going to say, I have a set as well and mostly use the forks for dessert forks when needed. They are fun to break up all the silver. I might have to go back to bed after all that.


Thank you for reading and commenting on Pigtown*Design. I read each and every comment and try to reply if I have your e-mail address.