Forks & Pins
Posted by Ken on October 07, 1997 at 08:22:44:
Saw unanswered questions relating to these two (not in their chess sense), but the threads seem to have expired, so an answer anew. The information comes from Henry Petroski's wonderful book, =The Evolution of Useful Things=. Petroski is no John McPhee, but is quite good in his own right & to be devoured.
Forks, from pp 15-17: "The introduction of the fork produced an asymmetry in tableware, and the question of which implement a diner's right and left hand held could no longer be considered moot. . . . Righthandedness may be assumed always to have prevailed, and so the knife in the right hand not only performed the cutting. . . but also speared the cut-off morsel to convey it to the mouth. . . . When the fork gained currency [late 17th-early 18th century], it displaced the noncutting and relatively passive knife in the left hand." However, American colonists made do with spoons, forks being rare in the early days, and so: "in the absence of forks some colonists took to holding the spoon in the left hand, bowl down, and pressing a pice of meat against the plate so that they could cut off a bite with the knife in the right hand . Then the knife was laid down and the spoon transferred from the left to the generally preferred hand, being turned over in the process, to scoop up the morsel and transfer it to the mouth. . . . When the fork did become available in America, its use replaced that of the spoon, and so the customary way of eating with a knife and spoon became the way to eat with a knife and a fork." A practice that Emily Post called "zigzagging," BTW.
As to how the fork evolved from 2 tines to 5 and back to 4 (or 3), you'll have to consult Petroski on your own (-:
Pins, from pp. 53-55: "Wire could be drawn at the rate of sixty feet per minute, but only slightly more than one pin a second could be cut by a practiced worker. This would yield about four thousand pins per hour. The bottleneck in the manufacture of pins occurred when they were attached to cards or papers; the women who worked at that cottage industry accomplished the task at the rate of perhaps fifteen hundred per day. Adam Smith observed that, averaged over all the specialists that divided the labor (and as many as seventeen different people might work on each pin), about forty-eight hundred pins per day per worker was the output."
Eventually (1835), John Howe (*not* the sewing machine guy) invented a machine to make a pin in one operation & speed up the pin-sticking; when that happened, "It was a far cry from the situation in the Middle Ages, when pins had become so scarce that a British law allowed pin makers to sell their product only on certain days. 'Pin money' was set aside to purchase the dear necessities, but, with mass production and the consequent sharp decline in price, 'pin money' came to mean pocket money or 'a pittance sufficient to purchase only pins.'" Petroski does not give prices, but I think we can assume the price of pins had greatly fallen by the time Mrs. Bennet began to enthuse about Lizzie's chances for pin money from her future husband. Maybe she meant gold pins, though (-:
At any rate, I hope I have assuaged someone's curiosity,
Posting followups to old messages is disabled; instead go to the main index and post a new message which mentions this one.