See G. I. Lloyd, The Cutlery Trades (1913, repr. 1968); J. B. Himsworth, Story of Cutlery, from Flint to Stainless Steel (1954).
Cutlery refers to any hand implement used in preparing, serving, and especially eating food in the Western world. It is more usually known as silverware or flatware in the United States, where cutlery can have the more specific meaning of knives and other cutting instruments. This is probably the original meaning of the word. Since silverware suggests the presence of silver, the term tableware has come into use.
The major items of cutlery in the Western world are the knife, fork and spoon. In recent times, utensils have been made combining the functionality of pairs of cutlery are the spork (spoon / fork), spife (spoon / knife), and knork (knife / fork) or the Splayd which was all three.
Traditionally, good quality cutlery was made from silver (hence the U.S. name), though steel was always used for more utilitarian knives, and pewter was used for some cheaper items, especially spoons. From the nineteenth century, Electroplated Nickel Silver (EPNS) was used as a cheaper substitute; nowadays, most cutlery, including quality designs, is made from stainless steel. Another alternative is melchior, a nickel and copper alloy, which can also sometimes contain manganese.
The first documented use of the term "Cutler" in Sheffield appeared in a 1297 tax return. A Sheffield Knife, was listed in the King's possession in the Tower of London 50 years later. There are several early knives on display at the Cutlers Hall in Sheffield dating from the 14th century.
Cutlery has been made in many places. In England, the industry became concentrated by the late 16th century in and around Birmingham and Sheffield. However, the Birmingham industry increasingly concentrated on swords, made by 'long cutlers' and on other edged tools, whereas the Sheffield industry concentrated on knives.
Before the mid 19th century when cheap mild steel became available due to new methods of steelmaking, knives (and other edged tools) were made by welding a strip of steel on to the piece of iron that was to be formed into a knife or sandwiching a strip of steel between two pieces of iron. This was done because steel was then a much more expensive commodity than iron.