Forks

Introduction

In England, people mostly ate using knives, fingers and spoons prior to the post-medieval period (Leahy and Lewis 2018, 180).  Consequently, the PAS has not recorded many table forks; the majority are iron from the 17th century onwards, although a few copper-alloy early-medieval forks have been recorded.  Post-medieval table forks had two prongs initially, with three from the end of the 17th century (Hume 1969, 180); carving forks tend to have two prongs to this day.

PAS object type to be used

Use FORK (UTENSIL)

For toy forks use TOY (see Forsyth with Egan 2005, 134)

Terms to use in the description

Forks have prongs or tines, and handles, the handles often made of organic materials.  The so-called ‘pistol grip’ handle of the 18th century has a bulbous expansion to one side of the terminal which is not functional on forks (e.g. LON-5E31FD); it balanced the blade of the knives they accompanied which curved in the opposite direction at their tips.

Date

Early-medieval forks are rare and tend to be dated to the 9th century.  Post-medieval forks were popular from the late 17th century onwards (Hume 1969, 180); the earliest known English-made dated fork is from 1632/1633.

Early-medieval forks

Extremely rare, recorded early-medieval forks have three prongs and long, narrow handles.  A spoon/fork combination was excavated at Brandon, Suffolk (Tester et al. 2014, 178-179; no. 8230), there dated to the 9th century.  Only two examples have been recorded by the PAS: SF11124 and SF-5C6DE1.

Post-medieval forks

Forks with two prongs used for dining appeared in the second quarter of the 17th century, but only became popular over the next fifty years or so; three prongs became common from the end of that century (Hume 1969, 180).  A fourth prong was present from the mid-18th century (Hume 1969, 180).  Fork handles often followed fashions in the knives they accompanied in sets: see above for the 18th-century ‘pistol grip’ handle.  They were often formed of scale plates made of organic material such as bone, applied to the generally iron fork.

Examples

Post-medieval table fork with 'pistol grip' handle (LON-EB1EA9). Copyright: Museum of London; CC-BYlicence)
Post-medieval table fork with ‘pistol grip’ handle (LON-EB1EA9). Copyright: Museum of London; CC-BY licence)

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Key references

Hume 1969