Bronze flatware, is it safe?
A discussion started in 2002 but continuing through 20192002
Q. I purchased bronze flatware in the '70s in Thailand. Is it safe to use?Guillemette D [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Los Angeles, California
A. Well, bronze should be an alloy of tin and copper, which sounds safe. But I don't know how to be reassured that there is no mercury, lead, or cadmium in this flatware if you don't know the details of its origin. Of course, the same could probably be be said for stainless steel or silver flatware :-)
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
A. Well, I wouldn't have any problem eating my dinner off bronze plates but I wouldn't use them as Frisbee's.
- Lowestoft, U.K.
A. The earliest nickel-bronze flatware that I know of was made in Sweden in 1914 by a company called Dirigold. They moved to the US and in 1935 the government made them change the name because the metal didn't contain any gold. The resulting name is Dirilyte and they manufactured flatware and hollowware until 1985. It was sold in the best jewelry stores and was quite expensive. I have some Dirilyte and also some Siam/Thai flatware and use it frequently. The Dirilyte company has a web site which sells polish and offers a refinishing service as well as offering some used pieces of their flatware when it becomes available. Use your flatware in good health.Alfred B [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Memphis, Tennessee
A. Was it from Bangkok? I was visiting over the Easter weekend and was shown the most wonderful Solid Nickel Bronze Flatware. They were retired military and had purchased the set during the 70's. She had all the paperwork. V United Co. LTD (VU) Solid Nickel Bronze Flatware. The pattern she had was the Pattern "K" King Design. I searched the web this morning and ebay... only found one set of Nickel-bronze Flatware on Bay which were possibly from the same company but a different pattern. Hope this helps!Jeanie H [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
A. Bronze dishes ("Khamsa") were traditionally used in Nepal (for eating when I was there in the 70's and 80's. Perhaps also Thailand? They look like pie baking dishes, and were made by using sledge hammers to hot forge bronze by hand into molds -- I think of stone. We all sat on the floor to eat at that time (no tables) and eventually the lower rim of the plate would develop a hole from wear from being slid around on the clay floor. We'd send them back to the smith as scrap and get new ones. I ate off them for years without thinking of any danger. Copper and brass cooking pots, in contrast to bronze, must be tinned inside.* Bronze is safe to eat from without tinning. This is in general.....in any individual case there may be something wrong with the metal. Brass is more of a problem, especially if lead has been added to improve machinability (this is normal) and then the brass becomes scrap and gets reprocessed into flatware....
My impression is that the Thai bronze flatware is probably safe, but I am not absolutely sure. Maybe you should send a tiny bit to an analytical chemistry lab for testing. It might cost $20 US, I would think.
* Tinning -- lining the inside of brass and copper cooking vessels with smeared on tin plate. The tin layer wears out periodically, and in Nepal there were itinerant tinners who went door-to-door offering retinning. When the tin wore through we'd hire one of these guys. He'd build a wood fire in the front yard, heat the pots and wipe on the new tin plate with some sort of rag. Tin's melting point is very low, so this is feasible. The pots last indefinitely, but retinning is done, I think every two or so years; I am not sure of the exact period involved.Mathew N [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada
2005 -- this entry appended to this thread by editor in lieu of spawning a duplicative thread
Q. I was wondering if there was such a thing as brass flatware?
My mother swears that is what her mother had and I have never heard of it. Can you eat off it? Can you put it in the dishwasher?
hobbyist - Key West, Florida
A. There are brass trays, some of which look like flatware. A lot are exported from India, and I've also seen them in Egypt...Probably they run from Morocco east to Bangladesh.
I have seen people put food on them to serve, but I think it is a dangerous idea to eat off them. Beside the traditional problems from pure Copper/Zinc alloys -- that is, Brass-- , I worry particularly about the fact that since the industrial revolution lead has been and is very often added to brass to improve it's machinability. The lead does not actually dissolve into the alloy, but remains segregated in tiny globules I have read. The problem is that with use, particularly if a knife and fork are used and food is cut on the plate, you may end up ingesting this lead in small amounts. Particularly for infants and children, lead is very toxic and even an infinitesimal intake seems to have damage the intellect. Adults can tolerate more, but it is never a good idea to put this capacity to the test. If you eat with your hands, without cutlery, or with wood chopsticks there's probably less, but still significant, risk.
I used to be a crafts designer in India and the supply of brass to the tray makers there is from mixed scrap. The lead containing brass is melted down and enters the market mixed with non-leaded (this is rare) brass. So if you use the trays to eat off directly, you're asking for trouble. No one in India eats from them.
So the conclusion would be that the most likely explanation is that the flatware your mother refers to was bronze but she mistakenly thought it was brass. The two can look very similar, and most people would not recognize bronze when they see it. I have heard bronze can be hot forged (like iron) while brass normally cannot, so if the item is forged rather than cast it may be the former. The other possibility was that the flatware really was brass but was meant either to be decorative, or was a tray rather than a dish.
If it's brass, or conceivably could be, don't eat off it directly.
- Toronto, Ontario, Canada
How can I tell if the flatware I have is brass or bronze? I inherited quite a large set of flatware, forks, knives, etc. The color is definitely the color of brass. However, unlike brass, it is quite heavy. The handles are very thick, look pounded and a deity is applied or carved near the top of the handles.There are no markings on the rear. It is beautifully made, no rough edges and very well balanced. It was tarnished and cleaned up easily with "Brass and Copper Cleaner". Does bronze shine as highly as brass and have that gold color?
How do I find out what it is? Would it be foolish to use it to eat with?
home owner - Scottsdale, Arizona
January 8, 2008
A. Unfortunately, no one is going to be able to advise you, sight unseen, what the composition of this flatware is based on a verbal description of what it looks like to you, let alone whether it would meet your personal sense of safety, Marcy. Mathew's replies are very enlightening though.
You might find a jeweler or a scrap dealer who has a "scrap sorter" X-Ray fluorescence testing machine which could instantly analyze whether there is any lead in it, and whether it is brass or bronze. But, speaking for myself, if it is obviously expensive and a well made thing of beauty, I'd use it.
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
February 15, 2008
Q. I just purchased 2 large sets of vintage Thai flatware, from two separate sellers on ebay. I am fairly certain they are Thai in origin and were described as being from the 50's to the 70's. After reading this thread, I am concerned they might be brass or have lead in them.
The metal is a brassy gold color, feels a bit heavier than stainless pieces, but the smaller pieces (desert forks) are easy to bend and I snapped one in two easily. The interior was also gold in color. Also none of the knives are particularly sharp. They go through the dishwasher easily and when left in water have not tarnished so far.
They look well done otherwise with a three headed elephant on each item's handle and a finial on top. The larger serving pieces feel quite heavy as well. Each set is about 144 pieces and comes in a wooden lined box and appear to be identical to each other.
Do these sets sound familiar to anyone and can anyone vouch for their safety or lack of it? Or does anyone know of Thai fabrication methods that ever utilized lead in their flatware?
- San Rafael, California
August 24, 2009
A. This is in response to Leslie H's query concerning the 3 headed Elephant bronze flatware from Thailand. I received mine (the same set, wooden box and 144 pieces) in 1968 from my brother who was in Bangkok on R&R during the war. I have never felt safe with it and have not used it but it is beautiful. I have the same concerns as you. If you hear anything else about it, please write again. Mine is stamped THAILAND on the back of each piece. Each piece is hand carved.Cathy V [last name deleted for privacy by Editor]
May 12, 2008
Q. I am in Australia and have recently acquired a flatware setting for 6, 'Siam' Wooden inserts with gold metal. I am unsure of the metal, and after reading this thread now have my doubts. These also carry a royal crown mark on the back of each piece and the word ROVAMATIC. My husband's family have a similar set from Malaysia purchased in the 60's and they say theirs is Bronze. It polished up very well, but some pieces have evidence of tarnish and pitting. Does bronze pit ? Any info would be welcome.
May 30, 2008
Q. I have a set of nickel bronze flatware from my great uncle. He was with the U.S. Embassy for many years. He was in Laos, Vietnam, China, USSR, etc. This set came from overseas, but not sure where. It is a six person set in a box. The sleeves have written in English "Solid Nickel Bronze." There is some writing that is not English. The mark on the back of the pieces has two squares arranged so that it looks kind of like the star of David. Inside this square is a ........ C
July 21, 2008
Q. What can you tell me of nickel bronze Thailand cullary set. Have a set that has a goddess sitting on an elephant at the top of the spoons.
- Anasco, Puerto Rico
May 11, 2009
Q I have been curious about the same type of set with "Thailand" and "Siam" markings. At least I now know I'm not alone in my question.
July 21, 2008
Hi, folks. This site focuses on industrial metal finishing. As we drift towards hallmarking, we're getting off topic. There are tens of thousands of hallmarks pictured in books, and even if lightning struck and someone happened to remember one out of those tens of thousands, it could be counterfeit anyway.
Requests for valuation also frequently smell of offers to sell ... and since we don't have 1/1000 of the bandwidth to act as a Craigslist or E-bay, we must discard any posting asking for valuations. Please go to an antiques dealer for that. Thanks! Regards,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
A. In case this helps, we've had a set of bronzeware from Thailand for 35-40 years and we're still very healthy. The bronzeware still is beautiful also!Linda Frazier
- Moscow, Idaho
August 1, 2008
A. Thanks, Linda. I agree. In today's world, while no one was minding the store, we tacitly accepted that it would be perfectly fine to suddenly move directly into massive importing of uninspected food from every hovel of the world. We've all seen the consequent major outbreaks of salmonella, listeria, and e-coli multiple times a year; we've heard about the rodent hair and feces in many ground spices.
We also decided that we could save money by just mixing everything up into one batch, so any given bag of brussel sprouts might contain sprouts from five different areas, with the result that it takes months instead of days to track down these outbreaks of food poisoning.
So I am FAR less concerned with what is in my fork than what is on it :-)
Worrying about the dangers of flatware sounds akin to fretting over whether you increase your chance of being hit by lightning if you text while driving :-)
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Pine Beach, New Jersey
December 28, 2008
This thread is fantastic! I was looking at purchasing a set of brass Thai flatware, and yes, I think I will! You nailed it with the food importation logic for me......um, the pesticides and toxic run-off that is used to WATER the foods we now import probably does pose more of a threat! Fantastic site with fun, knowledgeable people!Diane Hansen
- Tacoma, Washington
A. I was in Bangkok, Thailand on R&R from Vietnam. I purchased a set of Bronze Flatware and have used it many, many times. It is still beautiful. Mine was purchased from the factory store. When the dealer was demonstrating or showing me the set I purchased. He told me to pick a piece and he took it to a saw and cut in two pieces to show it was solid bronze. My set came in a three drawer box also. Use yours and enjoy them as we have.
CW3 Richard Jackson
US Army Retired
- Indio, California
December 31, 2009
Q. I too have a wooden box of flatware that has 3 wooden levels stacked inside full of flatware. I wasn't sure what metal it was, my father brought it back from Vietnam over 45 years ago and there is a tag in the upper left hand corner of the box that reads Star of Thailand Factory 327.329 Silom Rd. Bangkok, Thailand. I now believe it's solid bronze and not gold or gold plated silver. It has always been in this box and never used. it needs a good cleaning and I'm not sure what to clean it with. any advise will be great. also, I've looked for the address in Thailand on the web and can't find anything, please help.Lee Wilder
- Arlington, Texas
January 18, 2010
Q. We also have a three tier wooden box of flatware from Thailand,my father bought this in 1969 from AA Jewelry Udorn Thailand this is brass also and we can't find the company and are interested in finding info about this fine collection.ThanksLee Barbee Jr
- North Carolina
A. I've lived many years in Thailand on the local economy and as a US diplomat from the 1970's through the 2000's and have seen the flatware sets in stores all that time. They have been a mainstay item for sale to tourists since at least the 1960's if not earlier. They were a high quality item which the Thai could produce by combining their flair for design with their then limited industrial capability which could be sold for a good profit through an extensive network of high end retail outlets located in hotels, jewelry stores, etc. I love the writer's story about the salesman cutting the spoon in half to show it was solid bronze! The kind of real salesmanship the Chinese-Thai merchants are famous for! I have many Thai friends who own some of the 8 or 12 place sets which have never been used or have been used only on only the most special occasions. This is a Thai characteristic of giving things value out of proportion to their real worth as some of these friends are quite wealthy even by US standards and could afford any set they would like. Its along the lines of "it's the thought that counts". As to toxicity, I doubt it. Thais are VERY particular about such things, born hypochondriacs, they are not daring AT ALL about their health, they bathe AT LEAST twice a day to maintain their personal cleanliness, etc. My wife of 30 years is Thai and she won't even take aspirin no matter how badly her head hurts so she would know for sure if it was at all dangerous to use those sets (we have a set we use for birthdays and for guests who are part of our "Thai old hands mafia"). I'd polish them appropriately and of course keep them sanitized by washing in a dishwasher with super hot water and such. Choke Dee (good luck) to all!Michael Schnittker
- Sterling, Virginia
September 14, 2010
Q. My Thai silverware seems a little tarnished. How do I polish it. I clean them in the dishwasher and dry them right away.Maria Albret
Hobbyist - McLean, Virginia
October 26, 2010
Q. I have bronze flatware purchased in Phoenix about 15 years ago. It has been stored (in a silverware chest) pretty much ever since. I just opened it, and it's in sad shape. It has cherrywood handles, so I don't dare put it in the dishwasher (even if that were the case). So - help!Judi Moseley
housewife - Titusville, Florida, USA
A. I am retired after having worked in the environmental field for years and I can attest to the fact that the amount of exposure to lead that would lead to real health problems is very high - not nearly what anyone would be exposed to from eating from any flatware that contained SOME lead. You'd have to sit with the fork in your mouth for a very long time to really have a problem. I have a wonderful set of bronze flatware from Thailand - the 1960s - and use it fairly regularly. Still healthy. Don't worry about your flatware.Karen Coghlan
- Jacksonville, Florida, USA
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