by Sofia Soto Sugar and Christian Villacres
Knife and Fork, c. 1745 Unidentified artist
Chinese, Qianlong reign, 1736-1795
steel and porcelain
Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Gift of Richard D. Pardue, 2015.13.15-16
Prior to being used for the consumption of food, forks, or at least what is considered to be the predecessor of the table fork, were most often two-pronged and used solely for cooking and serving dishes. Popular belief amongst historians dictates that the table fork is the most recent addition to the typical set of cutlery. The earliest instance of widespread table fork usage can be traced back to the upper Yellow River region of Gansu and eastern Qinghai, China. The time period in question has been narrowed down to between 1900 and 2400 BC. The universalization of the table fork is not believed to have started until the onset of The Silk Road around the second century BC.
This fork and knife set were originally manufactured in China. The handles are in a Western, Dutch shape with Kakiemon style porcelain. While the Chinese manufactured plenty of porcelain goods for sale in a Western market, the three-pronged fork indicates this could have been for Chinese usage. This is not to say that Chinese culture was not using forks at the time, as some of the oldest known forks originate from China and spoons were even often pointed at the end to create a sort of single-pronged fork. In fact, while the chopsticks are more commonly associated with the Chinese, it was only the wealthy who used them because they believed the metal affected the taste of the food.
Sexton, John. “Knife and Fork Found in First Emperor’s Tomb.” Knife and Fork Found in First Emperor’s Tomb – China.org.cn, 1 Apr. 2010, http://www.china.org.cn/china/2010-04/01/content_19732414.htm. Accessed 14 Apr. 2017.
Jones, Tegan. “The History of Spoons, Forks, and Knives.” Today I Found Out, 24 Dec. 2015, http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/10/history-spoons-forks-knives/. Accessed 19 Apr. 2017.