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Sterling Silver Butter Knives

The butter knife is one of three knives used for formal dining occasions. Unlike the dinner knife and the fish knife, which are set to the right side of the plate, the butter knife is laid diagonally across the butter plate, with the handle on the right and the blade pointing down. As its name suggests, a butter knife is used to serve yourself pats of butter.

How are sterling silver butter knives distinguished from other knives?

A butter knife is a small table knife, typically 5- to 6-inches long, with a rounded blade and no serrated edges. Many sets of sterling silver cutlery contain knives for various other purposes, but these typically have pointed tips and sharper edges. In cutlery sets designed for informal meals, the handle of the butter knife may be made from plastic instead of metal. In formal cutlery sets, however, both the handle and the knife blade are always made of silver. The formal knife’s blade may also be stamped with the manufacturer’s legend. This is extremely helpful to collectors who would otherwise not be able to identify the knife’s pattern.

Are butter knives and master butter knives the same?

A butter knife is a utensil used by individual diners. A master butter knife, on the other hand, is a utensil that a butler uses to serve guests butter. A master butter knife is notched and has a tipped end because the butler uses a spearing motion to transfer the condiment onto the individual diners’ plates. The use of a master butter knife does not preclude the use of individual butter spreaders. Individual diners must still spread their own butter on their own rolls. The diners’ plates will remain empty, however, until the diners request the condiment from the butler. Most formal sterling silver flatware sets manufactured after 1935 don’t contain a master butter knife.

Why are formal butter spreaders made of sterling silver?

Although “silverware” is the generic term most Americans use to refer to cutlery, most eating utensils are made from stainless steel. Sterling silver is an alloy that’s 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper. When people own sets of sterling silver knives, forks, and spoons, they typically use them only on formal occasions.

How do you know if a butter knife is sterling silver?

It can be difficult to determine whether your butter knife is sterling silver or silver plated. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • The magnet test: Magnets will not stick to genuine sterling. Magnets may stick to plated knives depending upon what other metals are used in the alloy.
  • The eyeball test: Examine your butter knife carefully. If there’s even the tiniest fleck of color that’s not silver, there’s a good chance your butter knife is silver plated.
  • The temperature test: Sterling silver retains heat. Place your butter knife in a bath of hot water. If it becomes hot and stays hot, it’s very likely that your piece is sterling silver. A butter knife made from silver plate will cool far more rapidly.