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Coming to the Table: Historic Place Settings in America, 1850-1890

When we look at historic foodways, we should also consider HOW the food and tables were laid, presented, and served. It tells a lot about the changes in the American approach to dining. A place setting, often referred to as a “cover”, consists of the plates, glasses, silver, and napkin to be used by each person. The covers on opposite sides of the table should be directly opposite each other, not out of line. Lay the covers, allowing twenty-four to thirty inches from plate to plate for formal meals.

A table setting diagram below from Mrs. Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book, 1850.

She lists each place setting as having, "On the dinner table, at each plate, a knife, fork, napkin, and tumbler."