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Flatware - Silverware - Cutlery - What's the Difference?

Is it Flatware? Or wait, is it Silverware? Wait, No, it’s Cutlery? What is the difference between these terms when it seems like they all basically refer to the same thing? And What the Heck Is Holloware?


In the mid 1800s, the word Flatware was used to refer to anything shallow and relatively flat used at the dining table from/with which to eat. This would refer to handheld utensils like forks, knives, spoons, tongs, ladles, servers as well as tabletop utensils such as plates, saucers, and other open and relatively flat dishes. By the end of the century, the term flatware was being used to describe only handheld serving/eating utensils. Note:  Flatware can be contrasted with hollowware which is a receptacle that holds foods, i.e. tureens, sugar bowls, coffee pots etc. So, all told, you would set your table with both flatware and hollowware before a meal.


As the turn of the century emerged, people began using the word silverware in place of flatware. The change to the term silverware most likely occurred due to the fact that many of the handheld utensil pieces were made from silver. As such, “silverware” refers to handheld utensils that were silver based; “flatware” refers to handheld and non-handheld utensils comprised of metal and other materials.

In modern times, we most often use the word silverware but now most silverware is made from a variety of metal materials rather than just sterling silver. Stainless steel, silver plate (over a base metal* or amalgam) and sterling silver are the most common modern options. 
However, sterling silver and sterling silver plate are considered the best material for silverware because silver has antiseptic qualities of killing germs, bacteria and fungi and it has a lower toxicity level than other metals.


Cutlery is actually a separate item altogether. Cutlery refers singularly to knives and cutting implements and originates from the old French word “coutelier” (modern French: couteau) which means knife. So technically flatware and silverware could include cutlery, but cutlery would only refer to knives or cutting implements.
Sterling Silver Dinner Knives -  Lunt  ELOQUENCE

While all three words actually mean different things, nowadays all three words are used interchangeably. Go ahead and use whichever term you like, chances are the person you are speaking with will know what you mean.

*To read more about Sterling Silver and Silverplate as well as base metals, you can read our blog post Silverplate vs. Sterling Silver? What's the Difference?


Laughing Frog Studio’s mission is to create high-quality, handmade, unique and one-of-a-kind upcycled vintage silverware jewelry, accessories and housewares that enchant the creative spirit, honor the eco-friendly lifestyle, and spread kindness and a sprinkle of humor as often as possible.

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Vintage Silverplate Tells a "Story" Just Like Vintage Photos Tell a "Story"
Silverplate vs. Sterling Silver? What's the Difference?
The Secret Meaning of Flowers on Upcycled Silverware Jewelry
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