Etiquette: Sending a gift is not an obligation

May 6, 2013 

For the News-Democrat

Q. If I am not invited to my nephew's high school graduation or any kind of party, am I obligated to send a gift?

A. You are never truly "obligated" to send a gift to anyone, whether you receive an invitation or you don't. I cannot read between the lines here to ascertain if there is some kind of family feud, but, this is your nephew and I would think you would want to send him a gift, or at least a card, to congratulate him on his high school graduation.

Q. My grandmother passed away several months ago. I was fortunate to inherit four knife rests. I had never heard of them before and didn't even know what they were when they arrived in the mail. My Mom said she thinks Grandma used them on special occasions for family dinners, but she didn't really know anything about them either. Can you enlighten me? Are they still used?

A. What a wonderful inheritance gift. Knife rests have quite a history, going back to the early 18th century or possibly the late 17th century. It is believed the first knife rest was just a piece of wood, during the reign of British King Henry VII.

In order to protect the tabletop or sideboard -- whether covered with a tablecloth or not -- from getting dirty with food particles from the carving knife and fork, something on which to "rest" his carving knife and fork after putting a serving portion on a plate to hand to one of the guests was needed. Large knife rests were created or invented for this purpose.

Since during that time, each diner's place setting generally consisted of only one knife and one fork, knife rests were important for placement in between the serving meal courses.

Eventually, especially during the Victorian Era (1839-1901) in the more affluent homes, smaller knife rests were included as a part of each diner's place setting. The Victorians were notorious for taking everything one step further. Knife rests were made to match their plates, or from cut glass to match their glassware. They created knife rests out of many other materials, such as silver, mother of pearl, ivory, gold, pewter, or combinations these materials. The placement of the knife rests were to the right of the dinner plate Oh, so fashionable and elegant!

In France, knife rests out of Lalique became popular; the famous Faberge label in Russia; Wedgewood in England.

The Chinese also created knife rests for their chopsticks and still use them today. However, the use of knife rests in the other countries dissipated in the 1950s and 1960s. They have become more of a collector's item and can be found in some antique stores.

Your knife rests are certainly worthy of being placed on display in a special china cabinet or crystal cabinet in your home, and could certainly be used, if you so desire, when setting a more formal table on special occasions. Not only would they be a great item for table conversation, but also a wonderful way to show honor and love to the memory of your grandmother.

Dianne Isbell is a local contributing writer. Send your etiquette questions to Lifestyle Editor Pat Kuhl, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

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