One of the things I needed to buy, having moved back to England from the US, was some cutlery. And, ideally a dozen place settings, as I like to feed people and I now have a proper dining room – with table. And not just any table, but a 1960’s Heal’s glass and chrome beauty with matching chairs, courtesy of my parents who had it in their first home.

So obviously I wanted a set of cutlery that wasn’t just a, ahem, placeholder until I had time to source something amazing that would do my dining table justice. I wanted something perfect, and I wanted it right now. However when I started researching, everything I wanted was fearfully expensive.

And that’s before you even consider that a dozen place settings at a pound a pop equals £72 (and that’s without serving spoons etc). And for that you would get basically punched out metal rubbish. Ikea’s bearable ranges are permanently sold out, and Habitat’s quite nice stuff is around £6 per piece. That’s a dazzling £432 for a dozen place settings.

So then I had a brainwave. Over the years, my mother has given me several bundles of fabulous bone-handled butter knives that she has picked up from antiques fairs. So I started looking on eBay. And blimey: you can buy ENTIRE canteens of 1920s & 30s EPNS (that’s electro-plated nickel silver, which means it won’t tarnish) cutlery in their original canteens for less than a pound a piece.

It bears doing a bit of research into patterns – the most popular are Old English, Rattail & Kings – and knowing what you are looking for. A standard canteen has 6 each of table knives, side knives, table forks, side forks, dessert spoons, teaspoons and 2 tablespoons, making a total of 38 pieces.

I received my canteen last night. I paid £49.99 plus £8 24hr courier for six place settings in a wonderful wooden canteen, along with two serving spoons. It’s practically in mint condition, with an edge still to the knives and a point to the tines, and really beautiful. BARGAIN.

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I have also bought a second canteen of 1930s stainless steel for every day in the same pattern ( Old English) for £41 which will arrive shortly. So now I have my dozen matching settings for just under £100 – six in silver plate, and six in steel. Very happy.

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22 comments

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oh man, thank you so much for this post. i’m going to Ebay right now.

(two years ago i sent the husband to Ikea to pick up cutlery (have huge table, cook for friends at least once a week), and he came home with the CHEAPEST ones they had. awful! they’re as light as the fake metal forks you get on plans and make a tinny, spine-tingling sensation against your teeth. i’ve been putting off replacing them for far too long, mainly because, like you, everything i like is too expensive….this is a fantastic tip-off…THANKS)

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hey, do you know if nickel silver is bad? (this is why i haven’t gone cutlery shopping before– clueless)

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@annemarie: well, as far as eating from it, the interwebs say it’s fine…LLGxx

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sorry– i mean, ok for the dishwasher? thanks!

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@annemarie: Unfort silver shoul never go in the dishwasher, unless you partic want the yellowed patina look! xx

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@LLG: An added mention, my mother put (and continues to do so) her all silver cutlery in the dishwasher everyday. The charm (to avoid yellowing) she says is not to wash it on a very hot wash (like you do for pots). However, under NO circumstances ever put Ivory handle knives in. They must be hand washed.

If you can get solid silver cutlery vs. silver plate it is far better, which I know not everyone can afford, but as LLG says you can pick up often on Ebay for a steal as people don’t want it. Frequently thinking they are going to be forced to polish it all the time (which isn’t the case if it is used regularly).

Anyway just throwing my 10 cents in…..

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Are we going to get to see that table, pretty please? You’ve mentioned it twice, that I’ve seen. Maybe I missed a photo? But I would love to see it. Sounds awesome. I don’t know what Heal’s is. Thanks!

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I was lucky enough to be given a spare set that my mum and dad received as a wedding present for best but as well as having an everyday set I enjoy collecting vintage odds and sods to make a mismatched set.

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It’s a beautiful, understated set. I would also like to see a picture of the table. I missed the photo as well. Thanks!

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What a great idea. I just never ever thought of this…though I’ve bought much else on eBay. Thank you so so so so so much. Though I am in the States, I am sure it’s possible to find something nice here as well. Excellent!

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Nice to hear someone else appreciates good quality cutlery. I recently bought a canteen of cutlery from Robert Welch in Chipping Camden but the design I bought doesn’t have matching pastry forks, so I’m on the look out for some lovely old ones, I didn’t think of ebay.

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What a fantastic idea, I’m kicking myself for not having thought of this before *runs straight to ebay*

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Well done! You can’t beat buying 2nd hand for the price and green credentials. After spending my much of my career in the secondary art industry I’ve never understood why more people don’t do it! Try local auction houses for even cheaper deals as goods generally go for a wholesale price in live auctions whereas eBay prices edge closer to retail.

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