Metalwork Objects in Focus, Millennium Gallery, Sheffield

Fish Slice made from Old Sheffield Plate (1782)

A fish slice is a flat implement used for serving fish. Their handles are sometimes made of silver, but could be ivory or imported wood.


The delicacy of fish in terms of its flavour and appearance was very much appreciated in the 1800s. Whole fish were served at the tables of wealthy homes. It was deemed bad etiquette to cut fish into small pieces, or to break up the flakes unnecessarily when serving. The fish would be separated from the bone, divided into portions and lifted to a dinerís plate using a fish slice.


This Old Sheffield Plate fish slice was probably made in Sheffield, around 1782. The blade is flat and in the form of a fish. It is decorated with chasing and pierced ornamentation, which was sawn by hand, requiring considerable skill.


The earliest fish slices date to the first half of the 18th Century. They were quite different to this example, as they were triangular and pointed with pierced decoration. Their main function was to drain and serve deep-fried whitebait directly from the pan.


After 1745, slices were often shaped like a fish. The strict dining etiquette that evolved during the 18th and 19th Centuries may account for this. Very specific items of cutlery and flatware evolved for use with particular foods during this time. To use the incorrect implement would be considered an enormous faux pas. By shaping the slice in the form of a fish, its intended use was clearly demonstrated.


Prior to the invention and use of stainless steel, it was thought that steel ruined the taste of fish, so silver or silver plate was commonly used. Fish was often seasoned with lemon and the acidic juice would react with the steel and spoil the flavour of the fish.




 
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