This section is intended to help you decide on how to buy or build a canteen of silver cutlery and flatware.
What is a canteen?
A full canteen consists of twelve place settings
A half-canteen consists of six place settings
A double canteen consists of twenty-four place settings etc.
The components of a canteen vary according to particular tastes and desires. Standard components are table and dessert forks, table (or soup) and dessert spoons, and usually teaspoons. Knives may or may not be included. Further items can include other eating implements such as fish eaters and serving items such as ladles.
Canteens can be supplied loose, in cutlery rolls or within a fitted box.
Types Of Canteen
A straight canteen effectively means that all components are the same pattern, by the same maker, and generally of the same date.
A mixed canteen means all components are the same pattern, but not necessarily by the same maker and date.
An eclectic canteen is exactly that – anything goes – usually the main course eaters match each other, and probably the dessert eaters, but servers can be mixed.
Within these main categories are sub-categories, for example a "made-up straight canteen" is all the same maker, but the dates can vary, a canteen such as this may have differing proportions throughout – the more exact it is the more valuable it becomes.
Within the mixed canteen heading are two main sub-headings of canteen building; matching sets of 6 (i.e. same date, same maker) or one-offs (i.e. the pattern is constant throughout – but the hallmarks differ). Click here to see how we can help you build a canteen.
The relevancy of all these differing types of canteen is the effect on both the pocket and the table! Basically the greater the consistency of the canteen in terms of size and proportions of each piece, the more expensive it will be too.
Choosing A Pattern
With such a large choice available it can appear quite daunting which pattern to choose. However, answering the following questions can drastically narrow the field down: -
A scarce, decorative pattern, such as Stag Hunt, will take a long time to build and be very expensive, whereas a plain pattern, such as Old English, is much more readily available and will be a fraction of the cost. Generally speaking the scarcity of a pattern is proportional to the price and the time it would take to build a set. The following is a list of the more commonly found patterns where building a canteen should prove relatively straightforward. Click the patterns that interest you for more details and an illustration.
New or Old?
If you have in mind a contemporary pattern for your canteen, then you have very little choice than to buy new. On the other hand if you are looking for a traditional pattern you have a choice; new will be pristine and you can have the quantity and type of pieces of your choice "off the shelf", whereas second-hand or antique will be far less expensive & have some history. Remember this simple truth: if you are buying new, the value of your canteen will go down from the moment you buy it and will only begin to increase again once you have passed away - old will continue to appreciate in value from the moment you buy it!
Cost Of A Canteen
There are many criteria involved in valuing a canteen, here are some of the main ones: -
Here are the answers to a few of the queries that we are regular asked.
Spoons – the area most prone to wear is the tip of the bowl. This wear is due to the constant scraping of the spoon whilst being used. The first signs of a heavily used spoon is the curling up at the tip of the spoon, this can usually be felt with the finger as a sharp obstacle when you run your finger along the end of the bowl. A badly worn bowl becomes more evident with the loss of shape to the bowl tip. Spoons made from a good gauge of silver are much less likely to wear compared to inferior quality spoons. A sign of a quality spoon in first class condition is a flat tip to the bowl with no loss of shape. Bruises (a.k.a dents/dings) can often be found within the deep of the bowl caused by heavy-handed table contact. To ensure first class spoons in good condition we recommend buying from a reputable dealer. Click here for our selection of dessert, table, soup and tea spoons in excellent condition.
Forks – will show wear with the reduction in length of the tines (prongs). The earliest stage is the left-hand tine being slightly shorter at the tip (this is caused by the scraping of the fork over time by a right-handed person). Over years the other tines will become shorter too, giving an uneven appearance. These forks are occasionally "enhanced" by being trimmed to make the tips all equal lengths, excessive wear or trimming leaves a very stunted appearance. We highly recommend buying forks with full length tines, if wear is already showing the chances are that they will become more pronounced with future use. A specialist dealer will be able to supply the appropriate quality forks. Click here for our selection of dessert and table forks in first class order.
Remember with both spoons and forks the excessive wear shown is a result of many generations of use, and if you buy a canteen in good condition it is unlikely that this sort of wear will result within your lifetime.
Knife blades – the earliest knives (pre – 1900) are fitted with steel blades. These blades are invariably discoloured, and often rusted and worn, making them unsightly and impracticable. There are however ways to still have usable antique knives – buy them with replacement stainless steel blades. These replacements may be old in themselves (up to 100 years) or be brand new (we have them re-bladed).
Stainless steel blades tend to be much more durable and long lasting; very occasionally they have some pitting or minor discolouration.
Knife handles (hafts) - before the advent of stainless steel blades in the early 20th Century, silver-handled knives were constructed by soldering the two halves of the handle together (lengthways from hilt to terminal), the handle filled with molten pitch and the tang of a steel blade inserted in to it. Three major problems arise; the gauge of silver used was generally very thin therefore the handles are prone to bruising and splitting along the seams, the steel blades will rust, discolour and become worn through use (see above) and the pitch can melt or deteriorate and thus release it’s grip on the blade.
Stainless steel blades have solved all these problems. Nowadays the silver handles can be soldered directly to the blade, the handle has to be hollow to allow this, therefore a more substantial gauge of silver is used, and stainless steel does not corrode. Click here for our range of dessert and table knives
Engraved Inscriptions - spoons that are to be used (as against collectors items) with engraved initials or monograms are generally less saleable/desirable than those that are without. They are therefore deemed less valuable – and sometimes by as much as 50%. These engravings can be erased (but not easily on decorative patterns such as King's) and the saleability and inevitably the value will go up accordingly. BUT it must be done properly – badly erased inscriptions will decrease the value further (the potential has been lost!). The presence of engravings on the decorative patterns is more acceptable, than they are on say Old English or Fiddle Patterns. The majority of pieces would originally have been engraved and the successful removal of such engravings is very difficult. Furthermore, the engravings on King's and Queen's Patterns tends to be more discreet as the field in which crests or initials can be placed is relatively small. Please click here for more information about engravings to be found on silver flatware.
Items without inscriptions will match up to each other far better than a multitude of different engravings, plus many people do not want somebody else’s initials on their flatware. Remember, the vast majority of flatware before about 1850 would originally have been adorned with personal engraving, so an item that is without today, has likely had a removed inscription at some stage – yesterday, 10 years or 100 years ago!
Many people are happy with engraved crests – depending upon what is depicted, they can sometimes increase interest and value.
We are able to offer an engraving service. Crests and initials can be added to all flatware purchased from us. Each item is carefully hand-engraved in the traditional manner, by one of the UK's leading engravers. Faithful copies of family crests can be achieved, advice on engraving styles for monograms or initials is provided. Complete canteens can be engraved to your requirements. Items can be supplied to augment current services or replacements found for missing pieces, with appropriate engravings added to match. Quotes are available on request - you might be pleasantly surprised!