Date Made/Found: 1890-1910
Material and Medium: EPNS, ivory
Dimensions: Overall: 35 x 225mm (1 3/8 x 8 7/8in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2007.752
What is this object?
This object is a bread fork and was probably made between 1890 and 1910. It is made from EPNS with an ivory handle. The handle has been carved in a naturalistic style with small bumps. This type of handle is often called 'thick thorn' in contemporary catalogues.
What do bread forks look like?
Bread forks usually have three tines (prongs) and a short to medium length handle. Two main styles of bread fork were made in the 1800s and early 1900s. The first has flaring tines that resemble a trident. The second type has straight tines and resemble a small toasting fork. Like this object, the tines are often connected by a central ball.
Bread forks were available in silver or EPNS, which was considerably cheaper. Their handles were made from ivory, mother of pearl, silver or EPNS. Bread forks with metal handles could be made to match the pattern of a larger table service.
How much did they cost?
A catalogue from 1905 illustrates a number of different styles of bread forks in silver and EPNS. Silver bread forks vary in price from 26 shillings to 41 shillings each. The most expensive fork has a carved ivory handle. Bread forks in EPNS could be bought for as little as 5 shillings 6d. The most expensive example also had a carved ivory handle and sold for 22 shillings. This was almost half the cost of the silver bread fork.
How were they used?
Bread forks were used to serve individual rolls or slices of bread from a bread basket. Like today, bread formed an important part of most people's diets at the time this object was made. This fork would have most likely been used at formal luncheons, teas and dinners. These were occasions where strict rules of etiquette were observed. It was considered impolite to eat most types of food with the fingers. Bread was one of a few exceptions to this rule. However, it was still necessary to use a special fork to serve bread.
An opinion from 1860…
The advice manual 'The Habits of Good Society' outlines some of the rules of etiquette when eating bread at dinner in 1860:
"Bread is of course eaten with the fingers, and it would be absurd to carve it with your knife and fork. It must, on the contrary, always be broken when not buttered, and you should never put a slice of dry bread to your mouth to bite a piece off".
This object is part of the George Ellis Collection.