How to Identify Flatware Types

Eating utensils are also called flatware.
Eating utensils are also called flatware. (Image: Eating Utensils image by William Berry from

Flatware is the word used to describe table utensils such as knives, forks and spoons. There are four basic types of flatware: Sterling silverware is made of 92.5 percent pure silver. Silverplate is made of stainless steel with a very thin -- 2 to 60 microns -- coating of silver or gold. Stainless steel may be called "silverware" even though it isn't made of silver. It is made of stainless steel and may shine like silver. Miscellaneous flatware is made from plastic, ceramic, wood and other materials, alone or in combination.

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Recognize Kinds of Silver Flatware

Sterling silver flatware is easily recognizable. On the back of the spoon and fork handles you will see the word "sterling" imprinted. A silver pattern name may also be imiprinted there. Sterling silver is very soft and therefore is strengthened with another metal such as copper to prevent the utensil from bending in use. It requires careful washing with soap and water, not in a dishwasher. Then it is dried, polished, and stored in a soft cloth in a closed container. Exposure to air makes it tarnish. It is generally the "company" flatware in a household, not the flatware for everyday use.

(Image: spoon image by Oleg Guryanov from

Silver plate flatware also has distinguishable marks on the backs of fork and spoon handles. Most commonly, it will be the manufacturer's name, for example "1847 ROGERS BROS", and perhaps a pattern name as well. It will not bear the words "sterling" or "sterling silver." The knife blade may be stamped with the word "stainless." Because it has only a very thin coat of silver, it is generally less expensive than sterling silver flatware. It also should be treated like the sterling silverware. It will scratch easily, tarnish, and if washed in a dishwasher, may lose some of its silver "coat."

Silver plated flatware
Silver plated flatware (Image: Two holders interlaced, isolated on white background image by ESGatell from

Stainless steel flatware shines like silver, but it is generally less expensive. It is more rugged than silver and attuned to everyday use. Egg won't stain it as eggs do to silver. It is dishwasher safe. The backs of spoon and fork handles will be imprinted with the word "stainless" and perhaps with a manufacturer's name such as Farberware, and a pattern notation. Stainless steel is an metal alloy, made with iron ore, limestone, coke, chromium, and sometimes nickel, for example.

Stainless steel flatware
Stainless steel flatware (Image: tableware image by Andrey Chmelyov from

Other casual kinds of flatware may be made with a stainless and plastic combination, wood, bone, ceramic, plastic or many other materials.

Miscellaneous flatware made of stainless steel and plastic.
Miscellaneous flatware made of stainless steel and plastic. (Image: Fish Knife and fork image by Andrew Breeden from

Tips & Warnings

  • Many kinds of special utensils such as soup spoons, tablespoons, cake knives, jelly spoons, cocktail forks, pickle forks and much more are also considered to be flatware. Chopsticks made of bamboo and other materials are considered to be flatware. All of these may be made of sterling silver, silver plate, stainless steel or miscellaneous materials.


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