1. THE NUMBER AND TYPE OF COURSES YOU WISH TO SERVE.
This is a question of how many pieces each place setting comprises. Most basic canteens are six or seven pieces per place setting. That is, a small knife and fork for starter courses, a large knife and fork for main course, large (or soup) spoon and a small spoon for dessert. If a seven-piece place setting then a teaspoon is also included.
Some people prefer to have twice as many small forks so that they can serve dessert with a fork as well as a spoon, and starter to be eaten with a small knife and fork. If one tends to start with a soup course then the need for two small forks per place setting is obviated, and the small knife is used for butter. Some prefer to use a specialist soup spoon, while others (especially on the continent) enjoy using large dinner-sized spoons for soup.
Similarly, some prefer to use specially designed fish knives and forks for a fish course, either in the same pattern as the canteen or with ornamental bone, ivory or even Mother of Pearl handles. The same is true of fruit cutlery, which is a charming way to serve a dessert, echoing a bygone era, but of course just as appropriate and practical today.
2. THE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF PEOPLE YOU WISH TO SEAT.
This may be as much a question of how large a dining table you have as anything else! At important family occasions, Christmas or other festivals, extra space can often be found for one or two more guests, and so often a canteen for 12 persons must be augmented with a few extra place settings in the same (or at least a similar) pattern. Many people are happy to buy an extra half service (for six persons) in silver plate for these occasions, which is a cost effective way of getting the numbers up for those rare occasions where a full canteen is not enough.
3. A DESIGN OF CUTLERY WHICH SUITS YOUR TASTE AND HOME.
There are literally thousands of different flatware patterns. Most British antique silver cutlery patterns are variations on a couple of basic designs. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You can find a more detailed discussion of silver patterns HERE. Style and taste are, of course, personal matters. Its useful to divide flatware designs in to ornate or simple, although of course many patterns walk the line between the two. We can also see a distinction between traditional and modern but again some patterns skilfully transcend these classifications. There are so many designs to choose from that finding something you like and that will fit with your home and existing dinnerware is unlikely to present a problem.
The most important consideration in choosing a pattern is practicality of acquiring what you need. If you decide, for example, you wish to purchase a full silver canteen for 12 people in a given pattern, but think that later you will want to add fish cutlery and expand to 18 people, then it is important to pick a design which will be readily available. Happily there are lots of patterns which meet this requirement. The big three are Old English pattern, Fiddle Pattern and Kings Pattern, while they are closely followed by Hanovarian (Rat Tail) and Fiddle and Thread. All of these designs are plentiful, and there will be no problem in expanding a set in these designs. Many other silver flatware patterns are regularly seen, but might present a little more difficulty. Others are rare, and best bought in a complete service, or avoided.
4. YOUR BUDGET.
Put simply, plate costs hundreds, but if youre happy spending thousands then solid silver is an option. However, buying a silver canteen of cutlery is like a marriage:- if you get it right you only need to do it once in a lifetime! It also represents a significant financial investment for the future, to be handed down to future generations. Provided the right pattern has been chosen it is a simple matter to build up a service slowly, perhaps starting with a basic four piece place setting of silver dessert fork, silver dessert spoon, silver dinner fork and silver dinner spoon, and bone or synthetic handled knives, (or perhaps even silver plated knives in the identical pattern). In this way a starter set which can be immediately used to serve a 3 course meal for a maximum of 12 people can be acquired immediately for a relatively modest sum, and slowly expanded on as and when possible and desirable. This also makes an excellent (and generous!) wedding present for a young couple starting out in a new home.
Another option for those wishing to eventually have a silver canteen, but not to purchase it all in one go, is to pick an extensive plated canteen in a popular pattern, and replace the pieces bit by bit. Again this allows you to lay a full table at minimum initial outlay, and to spread the cost of a full silver service over the course of a few years or more.
INFULL Cutlery are always happy to help and advise you on your options while building a service.