Victorian Era Dining and 3 Forks on the Left
The change over (from Service à la Française) to Service à la Russe caused the established ways of serving and eating meals to undergo a major modification.
In the colonial period the only silver on the table was a knife, a fork, and perhaps a spoon. Part of the reason for this was that the tablecloth was removed after every course. To have a lot of silver and many glasses on the table would have made the removal of the tablecloth too hard.
When the change to service a la Russe took place in the 1860s and 1870s, the tablecloth stayed in place throughout the entire meal. In addition, the servants were busy carving and serving food. It now made sense to put out all the silver the diner would need and leave it there throughout the entire meal. The footman had other things to do and less time to hand out silverware. In addition, the mechanization in the production of silverware, together with a drop in the price of silver, meant that the host now acquired more silverware.
There were some practical limits. Clearly if the hostess put out the 8 or 10 forks one would use at a formal meal, the diners would be too spread out to comfortably talk to each other. Convention quickly settled on 3 or 4 forks as the maximum number the hostess could put out so guests could still talk easily to their neighbors.
|A rare Chantilly pattern "bird" or "game" knife and fork set. These were also sometimes known as "duck knives and forks" and were the predecessors to the steak knives of today.|
For some twenty years after the Civil War there was disagreement about whether 3 or 4 forks were proper. In the end 3 forks won out-- perhaps because the game course became less common. But, because this was a change and an arbitrary number, it was necessary to keep reminding people that they should never put out more than 3 forks at a table setting. We personally like the look of 4 forks and knives it creates an exotic and opulent look, and visually sends the cue that this meal will be something a little different.
From Forgotton Elegance