Sunday, February 23, 2014

To Serve and Project: The Adams Fish Slice, 1850-1851

Fish Slice
Chawner & Co, London
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The Eighteenth Century saw a real turning point in the “table manners” business. More so than in any other century, diners increasingly became aware of how and what they were eating and what they were using to eat it. During this period, new utensil and implements were developed to make the experience of dining more refined, to make the whole of the meal more elegant and special, and, to distance the diner from actually having to touch the food.

I like this concept. I’m a fan of utensils—both enjoying their sculptural and artistic qualities, and, using them. I’m also a fan of a well-set table and a proper meal. After having braces, well over twenty years ago, I found myself unable to pick up a piece of food with my hands and eat it. Braces hinder one’s ability to bite neatly, you know. It’s only been recently—honestly, in my thirty-eighth year of life—that I’ve relearned how to eat “with my face.” I can now pick up a piece of pizza and eat it. I can also cram a sandwich into my mouth without fear. Hell, I even ate corn on the cob this year without first having my long-suffering father first have to cut it off the cob as one might do for an octogenarian. But, enough of my weirdness (though I think some of you enjoy my random admissions).

Where was I? Oh, yes, antique fish slice. Among the utensils developed to newly elegant proportions during the Eighteenth Century were attractive fish slices. These implements were used for exactly what their name implies. The fish slice was among the first of the family of utensils which dictated “you can only use this thing for this purpose.” By the mid-Nineteenth Century when the Victorian’s got their properly-gloved mitts on everything, dining had become such an all-consuming, elaborate affair and theatrical ritual that there were even different fish slices for different fish. See, I think that’s quite lovely.

The first fish slices which were developed in the early part of the Eighteenth Century rather resembled a garden trowel. But, by the end of the century, they’d become quite a different thing. Some were flat like cake slices, some were oblong and curvy and some even had a boat shape. These implements provided ample room for adornment. Those with asymmetrical blades especially tended toward being the perfect palette for Rococo-style fussiness. While the handles always matched the other sterling flatware of the household, the blades could be adorned with imagery appropriate to the food—reeds or shells, and, sometimes, even, fishies.  

Just like the one pictured above...

This example is a solid representation of a Victorian fish slice. It was made of silver with pierced and cast decoration by the London firm of Chawner & Co at the end of 1850. Under the direction of one George Adams (1808-1895), this fish carver was created to showcase the fineness of Chawner’s craftsmen. The piece was exhibited both at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the later International Exhibition of 1862.

This piece, like many later fish slices—especially those of the Victorian era—was paired with a matching fork. Both feature a crest on the handle of a man with a ladder and a tree. And, both are marked for George Adams and Charner & Co. 

And, yes, I did just write that much about fish slices. 

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