Tuesday, July 5, 2011
The Memory Of All That Artifacts
I am going to be posting a number of items in the coming weeks, as The Memory Of All That makes its appearance in the world, things which aren't quite staircase thoughts (as you may have noticed, I post lots of things here that don't really qualify) so much as they are things that could have been in the book, but in the interest of making the book less of a loose, baggy monster, are not. Or they are mentioned in the book only en passant, or only implicitly, and so I will have a little more to say about the subject here. Not to mention the actual staircase thoughts that will no doubt arise.
We begin with this fish knife, one of eight in my possession, part of the remains of the silver service which belonged to my grandparents at the time of their marriage, the first of three marriages for each. The monogram is a J and a K nestled inside the W -- James and Katharine Warburg. I don't know if this set was used in the city (East 70th Street) or the country (Bydale, in Greenwich), but I suspect that when my grandmother left the marriage at the end of 1934, it was the silverware she had in her post-divorce apartment. It is very likely that George Gershwin used this fish knife at some point in the years (1925-1936) during which he was a constant in my grandmother's life.
In 1838 a book of etiquette for ladies recorded that, 'in first rate society, silver knives are now beginning to be used for fish: a very pleasing, as well as decided step in the progress of refinement.' The elaborate dining etiquette of the Victorian era made it a time when all sorts of weird utensils were created for eating particular foods. The proper use of cutlery required lengthy explanations in etiquette manuals. Often the standards of behavior reflected the manners and status of 'old' versus 'new' money. The development of fish eaters, as they were originally called, is a good example of this. Until the 1880's, it was traditional to eat fish using two ordinary table forks or one fork and a piece of bread. It was the middle-class who would have bought the newly developed utensils like fish eaters, thus distinguishing them as socially inferior people who have to buy silver because they don't already have it.