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Apparently, very few of us have the time or patience to polish silverware by hand these days. Just 14 percent of U.S. households acquired a formal tabletop item, such as fine china or sterling silver flatware, in the past year, compared with nearly a third (32 percent) of households that acquired any casual tabletop item, including everyday dinnerware and stainless steel flatware, according to a report released in late 2002 by Stevens, Pa.-based research firm Unity Marketing. While sales of casual tabletop items reached $4 billion in 2001, formal tabletop items — despite their much higher prices — fetched just $2.5 billion at retail outlets nationwide. Says Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing: “[Tabletop consumers] look at fine bone china plates and sterling silver flatware as an anachronism, a remnant of a long-lost time. For today's homemaker and hostess, dinnerware must go from freezer to oven to table to dishwasher and still be pretty enough to display on the shelf.�

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