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May 13, 2008

Classic flatware

Filed under: Flatware — Mr. Henry @ 9:27 am

Flatware is sending Mr. Henry round in circles.

For longer than he cares to say, he has been promising to buy Mrs. Henry a proper set of knives, forks, and spoons in everyday stainless steel, a set that balances nicely in the hand, lies beautifully on the table, and washes easily in the dishwasher. When Mr. Henry and his peerless consort decided to bind themselves contractually, they included on their wedding registry a classic stainless pattern from Christofle, the best of the best.

Because the marriage loot did not yield all the plates and bowls from their china pattern, however, the fledgling Henry couple elected to exchange their Christofle for the missing china.

He promised to buy that stainless just as soon as they got on their feet.

Time passed. Water ran under the bridge. Financial cycles ebbed and flowed. The tide in Mr. Henry’s affairs was not taken at the flood. Although the voyage of his life is not bound in shallows or in miseries, ready access to the price of a Christofle service for 12 remains elusive.
Little by little the Henry’s everyday china has grown in sophistication. From Sara on Lexington Avenue came plates in tenmoku black glaze.

Sara glassware too includes some beautiful handblown examples. Old Edo style dinner napkins get softer with each washing.

But the Henry flatware drawer holds only odd bins, a hodgepodge of shapes and styles, their origins expunged from memory.

Each year sometime between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, those twin perils of romance, Mr. Henry wanders into Pottery Barn. He picks up a knife or fork to see whether something better than Christofle has arrived.
So far, he remains convinced that Christofle Albi II stainless (glossy) is the best. Its simple lines resist useless adornment. (Glossy is harder and more resistant to wear than satin. Under daily dishwasher use, the satin finish scratches and dulls.)

Its weight and balance in hand are persuasive. Other stainless flatware either feels flimsy, the handles too light and too thin, or feels over-designed, the handles imprinting decorative rills on your thumb pad.

Modern design is interesting and occasionally amusing but in the end seems like an unnecessary distraction. Fork tongs do not need to be redesigned every generation. Like printer’s fonts, classic ones serve very well, thank you.

Flatware should serve. (It’s called a service, after all.) Like a picture frame or sculpture pedestal, flatware should play a supportive role. It should not command more attention than the food it conveys. Nevertheless, when you dedicate real skill to a meal, you should eat with tools commensurate to your effort. You owe that much to yourself. After painstakingly planning, shopping, preparing, and serving the meal, is it appropriate to let the food’s final few inches of transport be less than elegant?

In this updated version of a classic design, the Albi II tablespoon is slightly smaller than the Mimosa, the standard of years past. This is an improvement. The traditional French tablespoon is surprisingly big. The standard teaspoon (pictured), on the other hand, always seemed too small for practical use. He opted out of buying the teaspoon altogether and in its place chose the dessert spoon, halfway in size between teaspoon and tablespoon.

In sum, Mr. Henry decided that his essential five piece setting shall comprise the dinner fork, dinner knife, table/soup spoon, dessert spoon, and salad fork. (Perhaps the addition of two serving spoons might make the setting more fulfilling.)

How to pay for this shiny treasure? On Mother’s Day he phoned his own sainted mother to wish her the very best. The conversation soon turned direction.

“Oh, Mom, do you remember when I said I didn’t want anything for my birthday? Well, I found just the thing.”


  1. Have you checked eBay–I have friends who have accrued fine sets of flatware that way.

    Comment by Casey — May 13, 2008 @ 10:21 am

  2. A good set of quality flatware is indeed worth its weight in gold…not that I would recommend gold flatware for every day. It’s an awfully soft metal for the purpose, after all. ; )

    One of my favorite things about receiving wedding gifts was how good my lovely stainless flatware felt in my hand as I balanced each piece. Coming up on fifteen years of wear and tear, it looks just as lovely and feels just as good in the hand as it did when we got back from our honeymoon. Simple, solid, handsome, and elegant.

    I definitely agree flatware should be simple in design, the better to showcase the food on it.

    Comment by Twistie — May 13, 2008 @ 8:56 pm

  3. It’s heartening to hear that flatware holds up over time.

    As for eBay, Mr. Henry checked there several times without success. The lowest price he found is at, but you have to know what you want ahead of time.

    Comment by Mr. Henry — May 14, 2008 @ 7:48 am

  4. Mr. Henry still should check once a week or so. Items like this trickle on, but eventually some true bargains will appear. I collect Barbara Eigen’s American majolica from the 70s and 80s– upon which food looks so fine — and for weeks there will be nothing and then an absolutely wonderful piece will appear, usually at a bargain price.

    Comment by Casey — May 16, 2008 @ 12:37 pm

  5. I’ve never encountered Christofle in person but I have no doubt, from your paeans, that there is a reason it is priced as it is. That said, we registered for Crate & Barrel flatware at our wedding and I am still quite happy with it (unlike the worthless C&B china, prone to losing most of its color). We ended up with Cutipol Baguette; no longer available but actually quite like the flatware you showed above. The Charlemagne flatware they offer now ( looks somewhat similar.

    I am not trying to sway Mr. Henry, just putting that out there for others who might be looking for something attractive but less expensive.

    In the meantime, as I will be in the market for some new china soon (see above), I have bookmarked Mr. Henry’s tenmoku plates, which I find extremely compelling. Thank you, Mr. Henry!

    Comment by L. — May 19, 2008 @ 10:27 am

  6. Ayyyy! Mr. Henry ordered from the suspiciously-named Although they give a discount of about 25%, delivery takes 8 to 12 weeks. Having waited 8 to 12 years to make a decision, now he wants it yesterday.

    The internet annoys him, especially today when his broadband isn’t working and he is forced to piggyback on unsuspecting neighbors. It feels a little creepy to borrow bandwidth without asking permission.

    Go ahead and order the tenmoku plates. The owner of Sara could not be nicer or more accommodating, and the plates are fabulous.

    Comment by Mr. Henry — May 19, 2008 @ 10:38 am

  7. Does Mr Henry choose his friends on the basis of not having sugar or milk in their coffee/tea? Surely he doesn’t expect them to stir their chosen beverage with the dessertspoon? A teaspoon is called a teaspoon because it is used to stir tea, it is usually of an appropriate size to do so.

    Comment by Bronwyn — May 20, 2008 @ 1:24 am

  8. A little late, but I was going to suggest perusing the wonders of They offer stainless, silverplate, and sterling, all high-quality goods at a discount (ditto their other tableware, jewelry, and other bits and frills).

    Comment by La BellaDonna — May 20, 2008 @ 1:01 pm

  9. I thought I would chime in with my two sense, since I have insomnia and a very busy brain tonight. When I got married, I registered for the slightly modern and very simple Gorham Studio pattern stainless and I received lots of it. I loved the weight and balance of the pieces and the simplicity of the design. On the advice of my very wise mother, I didn’t return a spoon, but simply kept in storage what I didn’t need immediately.

    Now after seven years of marriage we have pulled out a replacement piece here and there from our original gifts and I am always amazed at how well the finish has held up against the “brand new” pieces! I still love the pattern and it looks great (and it always goes in the dishwasher). I also love that it is widely available at most good department stores or online. Overall, it’s a great pattern for someone who wants a good, no frills, but quality looking set of stainless.

    Comment by Eilish — May 21, 2008 @ 2:50 am

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