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Friday, November 14, 2008

Butter Handling Utensils

One would think that butter knives would be fairly standard. Well, strange as it may seem, a single pattern may offer eight or more different styles of butter handling utensils. There are several different characteristics by which to categorize them, starting with:

  • Master butter knife - used to transfer butter from a common serving dish to an individual diner's bread plate. This knife typically will have a sharp point to be used to "spear" a butter pat, I suppose. It is not used to spread butter onto bread.
  • Individual, or place, butter spreader - used to spread butter onto bread. Each place setting will have one of these for use by a single diner. A spreader normally will have a rounded tip.
A utensil's construction defines another way to categorize:
  • Solid or flat-handle - typically means that the utensil is one solid piece, all made of sterling.
  • Hollow-handle - means that the utensil is constructed more like a dinner knife, probably with a sterling handle and a stainless steel blade.

The solid butter utensils could be expected to be a little more expensive than their hollow-handle cousins because the solid pieces typically are all sterling. Their sterling blades may exhibit more abrasions than the stainless steel blades on hollow-handle pieces. The categories above are illustrated in this picture of four Gorham Chantilly utensils. The utensils (from top to bottom) are:

  • Solid (flat-handle) master butter knife
  • Hollow-handle master butter knife
  • Solid (flat-handle) butter spreader
  • Hollow-handle butter spreader

Photo courtesy

Here's a third categorization:
  • With Notch - references the little notch in the blade that you see in the two master butter knives in the above picture.
  • With No Notch - means that there is no notch. Some patterns include both options. The utensils often will look exactly the same except for the notch.

And now for your reading pleasure, a fourth categorization:

  • Modern blade - means that the blade resembles the blade of a modern place knife.
  • Paddle blade - means that the blade has a different, more rounded shape.
  • French blade - may be a variation of the paddle blade.
Below are pictorial examples. The Chantilly butter spreader on the left is a hollow-handle spreader with a modern blade. We call the Chantilly spreader on the right a hollow-handle butter spreader with a paddle blade. However, some might define the blade as a French blade because of the way the sharp edge of the blade leaves the handle (taking a 90 degree turn away from the handle, then another 90 degree turn up the blade edge).

In addition to knives and spreaders, there are butter picks. Below are pictures of two examples. The top butter pick has a single tine while the bottom butter pick has two tines.

Photos courtesy of

So, the bottom line here is to be careful when buying butter utensils to make sure you are getting what you want!

Click on any picture to see a larger version. By clicking on "Comments" below, you can see posted comments and add your own questions/comments.


Anonymous said...

I have a serious question on a utensil I found at the bottom of a box! I was told it looks like a two tine meat fork -
However, I just happen to see a picture of a BUTTER PICK?
This utensil as stated above, has a stainless tine and the handle, half inch wide and at least thick, is marked with an " A (SCRIPT) and "STERLING". What is it? HELP!

Silver Jim said...

Can you email us a picture? If so, click on "Email Silver Jim" in the right column.


Anonymous said...

the reason ppl call them butter knifes and not dinner knifes is simple. its been many years scence anyone has use a real butter knife. most just use a dinner knife and tell there kids there butter knifes and so on. in Canada. no one uses real butter knifes and most just get left in the box as an oddity. i fear even my children's children will continue the practice.