collections | civil war era flatware

by | May 19, 2021 | Antiques | 24 comments

When I was asking for blog post/theme suggestions back in March, one of my readers suggested sharing some of my collections.  I have done that in the past, posting about ironstone and other things that catch my eye, but it’s been a while since I wrote a post specifically sharing about one of my collections and the reason behind it.  In today’s post, I’m going to share about my affinity for vintage and antique flatware specifically sets and pieces from the mid-1800’s/Civil War era.

I am pretty sure my love of flatware started with Bakelite about 10-12 years ago.  I remember seeing this pretty flatware with creamy handles in some of my favorite magazines and I started to keep an eye out for it when I visited antique shops and markets.  When I was first looking for it, it didn’t seem to be very plentiful and, when it did surface, it was out of my budget to buy.  Most sets I came across were around $100.

I finally splurged on a beautiful old set of Bakelite flatware for $60 and it was one of my favorite things.  I have used pieces from that set in many photo shoots over the years.  I’m not sure what changed, if it was my luck or the market, but when I started selling antiques, I found loads of Bakelite flatware at great prices, so I snapped it up.

bakelite flatware | miss mustard seed

I kept some of my favorite pieces (photographed below), but I sold a lot, too.  The ones in the jar above were all headed to the Lucketts Spring Market.

bakelite flatware | miss mustard seed

As I was hunting for flatware, I began to notice and buy pieces that were Civil War era.  These pieces are usually made of wood or bone mixed with pewter inlay.  The forks typically have 3-4 tynes and the knives are flat and broad.  A typical set, in my experience, just includes forks and knives.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a spoon in this style, even though I know spoons were a typical utensil used in the Civil War era.

civil war era flatware | miss mustard seed

Most of the antiques I purchase have at least one practical purpose other than looking pretty.  These really don’t.  I just love them.  I admire their craftsmanship, their humble beauty, and it makes me feel like I’m keeping a part of history.  These items aren’t fancy, valuable, or particularly sought after.  These are an everyday piece of someone’s household from the Civil War era (the mid-1800s!) and I find something interesting in that.  Imagine how many dinners these pieces have seen.  How many fingers have been wrapped around these handles?

civil war era flatware | miss mustard seed

civil war era flatware | miss mustard seed

The other thing I love is the inlay designs in the handles.  These aren’t fancy Sterling silver knives and forks with ornate reliefs.  They are humble and even a little clunky.  But, someone still took the time to create a simple inlay design and cut the bone handles to fit perfectly around that design.  That is a detail that seems unimportant when getting food on the table or washing clothes very hard work.  Life was precarious with diseases, lost crops, hard labor, and war.  Why take the time to carve little 8s and circles and crosses in the handles?

civil war era flatware | miss mustard seed

I don’t know that answer from a historical perspective, but I do know it from a human one.  We crave beauty.  We are creative beings.  Sometimes things just spill out of us and they need a place to land and someone’s creativity and craftsmanship landed on the handles of these Civil War-ear utensil handles.

I see that and it speaks to me in a way that I can’t fully articulate.

civil war era flatware | miss mustard seed

Things are just things.  I would hope that if ever my home was destroyed by fire or flood that I would be able to still say that and mean it to my core.  But things are special because of the people who designed them, made them, used them, fixed them, cared for them, and passed them down.  We appreciate the creation because of the creator.

I bet you never thought I could get so philosophical and deep about flatware!  But, that’s why I love antiques.  That’s why I love good books and movies.  That’s why I love good people.  Because I love a good story, even if it’s one I don’t fully know or can only guess at.

civil war era flatware | miss mustard seed

So, they are one of my more impractical collections in my home.  When I bought home a couple of sets from my shopping trip in PA, Jeff just said, “Oh, good.  I was worried we didn’t have enough of those.”  I don’t make any defense for them.  They are, indeed, impractical and simply leaning up in a crock, jar, sugar bowl, or ironstone mold for my own delight.  We could use some of the sets that are in good condition, but we rarely do.

civil war era flatware | miss mustard seed

But, as I shared recently, our homes shouldn’t be full of bargains or things that are simply practical.  Our homes should be filled with favorites.  They should be filled with things that delight us, make us smile, bring back fond memories, or make us want to read more, learn more, grow more, travel more.  These Civil War-era utensils, for whatever reasons, are one of my favorites.  And it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else.

civil war era flatware | miss mustard seed

If Civil War-era utensils speak to you as well, I would suggest looking at local antique stores where the prices might be better.  I bought two beautiful sets when I was in PA, both with 12 pieces each, and both were around $35.  When looking for things like flatware, always look in glass displays and open random boxes.  I have found some amazing antique flatware in ratty cases and boxes for a great price and they were likely overlooked because other people didn’t open the box.

You can find some good deals on Etsy now and then, but some of the pieces are quite pricey.  There are some lovely bone, French ivory, and Bakelite flatware sets and pieces for great prices, though.  I picked a few of my favorites below…

24 Comments

  1. celestial

    I love that you have such an affection for this type of flatware; you have a deep soul capable of great feeling. It makes us all more conscious of the history of daily life.

    I have to say that I absolutely hate old flatware because I grew up with it and hated tasting the metal when eating. Our flatware was so worn that it must have been in daily use for close to 50-80 years. Just thinking of that metallic taste still makes me cringe; I have loved every minute of my stainless steel flatware because I cannot taste it. I’m glad that you are not using yours for actual eating. Please keep writing!

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Yes! I agree. I ate with one of my oldies one time and could taste the metal, which wasn’t enjoyable!

      Reply
    • Irene Kelly

      Oh so agree about that nasty taste ! Nice to look at but terrible to actually use.

      Reply
    • Mary Files

      Because……”Whatsoever things are beautiful…” We must, blot out so much of the ugliness going on around us. We MUST replace that empty space with beauty. In the end, Beauty recovers and saves so much, because of its maker.

      Reply
    • Kay Hess Grogg

      Mom’s wedding sterling flatware was our everyday ware when growing up (it only cost a few dollars a piece when they got married) . We ate dinner at the home of a friend and I remember telling Mom’s friend that her fork tasted funny and not like our silver. Mom was mortified and I got a tongue lashing on the way home. Not so good of a memory, but I do understand about the taste of flatware and the lesson learned about not being too honest. lol

      I recently bought a new set of flatware that looks like these old sets. I didn’t know why I was drawn to them until this article. They remind me so much of something from history! Thanks for sharing this story.

      Reply
  2. Kim

    It is always a treasure and a delight to appreciate the details of mere “things.” I love that people in the past took the time to make everyday items beautiful as well. I’m sure that they hoped that they would be passed on forward as well.

    Reply
  3. Babs

    “Our homes should be filled with favorites.”..what a lovely idea.

    Reply
  4. Teddee Grace

    I feel the same way about antique porcelain. Who had it in their hope chest, ate from it, drank from it, packed it in a trunk or barrel full of straw in the hold of a sailing ship for its trip to the New World? And how did this delicately beautiful, fragile, hand-painted thing, created in France or one of the old German states, find its way without a chip or crack to a thrift store in the middle of the United States?

    Reply
  5. Debbie Hibbert

    What a wonderful post, Marian. It can be almost impossible to convey how certain, extremely useless, things can make one so happy. The way it makes me feel is like our collections choose us, and not us choosing them!😀

    Reply
  6. Rick S

    If something brings us joy by looking at it or touching it that is enough to justify a place in our home.
    Beauty is always useful.
    I look at my collections and wonder who enjoyed them in the past.
    I am just another person caring for these things until they move on to someone else.

    Reply
  7. Darlene

    I enjoy your posts so much that I save them up and read three or four at one time.
    Your last post about reading for inspiration reminded me of why I look for your posts in my email and always watch your reels on Instagram. You have taught me, spoke words of wisdom, made me laugh out loud, and I am so thankful for your continual inspiration!
    Although I am not a painter, I have enjoyed watching the evolution of your business.

    Thank You,
    Darlene

    Reply
  8. Cheri

    Jeff’s comment is for sure something Kirk would say!

    Reply
  9. Betsy

    Thank you for addressing this subject. When you showed flatware you purchased on your recent trip to Pa. I asked you a question about using it. You just answered my question.

    Reply
  10. Addie

    I love~love~love those flatware pieces. I have never seen any of it out here in the west. The east coast has so much more…sometimes. Never see Ironstone either.

    Reply
  11. Pat Swenson

    Wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment that our collections do not have to make sense to anyone else. If it speaks to your heart and soul, that is all that really matters.

    Reply
  12. Joan

    I LOVE them too! and I’ve collected a few too…and only because my Oma used to have bakelite and or bone utensils, and we used to eat with them at her place all the time when we went to her house for dinner so for that reason they mean alot, ( as well as her green milk glass tea cups and saucers …I’ll never forget how perfect a cup of tea was every time at Oma’s house in one of those! ) so I share the love for those reasons, but also know what it’s like to have certain things, collect certain things, that mean ? to me only !
    I do LOVE the look as you stage yours and use them in your photos EVERY TIME !
    haha to Jeff’s comment ! LOLLLL

    Reply
  13. CarlaS

    Reading your blog and seeing these beautiful pieces in your photos inspired me to collect it. I don’t have nearly the number of pieces but have set a strict limit on what I will pay. I was lucky enough to find a carving knife and fork set in walnut with the pewter inlay. So much fun! Thank you for broadening my collecting. My husband has kind of the same reaction as Jeff though.

    Reply
  14. Cheryl McDermitt

    Thanks for sharing your collection Marion! I have never seen this kind of tableware. It is rather interesting.

    Reply
  15. sondra d spencer

    Yes! It isn’t that our collections are our “valuables”, but they are special to us. I have some collections (such as aprons) that started with a few sentimental pieces from family.

    Reply
  16. Wendy

    Totally makes sense to me!🥰

    Reply
  17. Carolyn Gorenflo

    Your very best writing! I love it! You see the core of the human connection, each of us to the other, and the tangible objects that let us connect. Thank you very much.

    Reply
  18. Cindy

    Beautiful post. I feel that way about so many of the antique and vintage things I love. What stories they could tell!

    Reply
  19. Annette

    “We appreciate the creation because of the creator.” What a lovely sentence. I loved my grandmother’s quilts because they are her creation, and she was – and is – a creation of the great Creator.

    Reply
  20. Lenore

    I live in the middle of nowhere in WA state. I was at the one sale in town and I look down at the table and see a knife and fork in a baggie with no price on it. I know what this is…..how much please…..50 cents…mine! I never would have known it was Civil War era flatware had I not read your blog. I just realized the fork has a thistle on it, the knife is plain. Funny sometimes how after you are reading something, you find it but I was certain I never would here. I love old things but never thought I would find something this old…you never know. Knowledge is power for sure. Thank you.

    Reply

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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

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