This section is from the book "The American Woman's Cook Book", by Ruth Berolzheimer. Also available from Amazon: The Domestic Arts Edition of the American Woman's Cook Book.
Now you are ready to set the covers.
A "cover" is the place set for one person at the beginning of a meal. It consists of a service plate (called sometimes a "place plate," and most appropriately called, a cover plate), silver utensils, napkin, and water glass.
In setting a cover allow, if possible, the standard space of twenty-four inches, this space being measured from the center of one plate to the center of the next one. Allow fifteen inches for depth.
Place the cover plate in the exact center of the place, and so that the pattern is up, in other words so that the pattern-design is given its full beauty-value.
All the lines of the cover should go either across the table or lengthwise of it. Avoid diagonal lines because they attract the attention of the eye and take away from the harmony of the design.
Place the knives in a straight line, on the right of the plate, parallel to each other, and the spoons on their right. On the left place the forks, also in a careful straight line, and lay the napkin at the left of the forks with its edges parallel to the forks and knives and spoons. When the cover includes a bread and butter plate, lay the butter spreader on the edge of the plate so that it is parallel to the edge of the table with the handle toward the right. Salt and pepper sets should' follow this rule of placing, as should the handles of dishes that are placed on the table, and if a piece of silver is placed on a dish at the table (for instance, the spoon on the plate under the fruit cocktail) it too should be placed parallel to the pieces of silver at the sides of the plate.
There are several other important rules for setting a cover, and the basic idea of these rules applies to informal meals as much as it does to formal meals.
Knives, since they are used in the right hand, are placed at the right of the plate, with the cutting edge toward the plate-
Spoons, with the bowls up, are placed at the right of the knives.
Forks are placed at the left of the plate, with the tines up. This is because the fork is held in the left hand when the knife is in the right hand. If an oyster fork is necessary, it is placed on the right of the knives and spoons - and parallel to them - or on the plate on which the oysters are served.
The Silver should be placed in the correct sequence - so that the person eating may use first the utensils farthest from the plate and "work toward the plate." Not more than three knives and three forks (not counting the butter knife or oyster fork) are laid at one cover. If necessary, additional pieces are laid just before the course is served. Usually the silver is laid for the courses through the salad course, and the dessert silver is either placed at the cover before the dessert is served, or brought in on the dessert plate. For every item of food in the menu the necessary piece of silver should either be placed at the cover or brought in before the service of the course.
The Napkin is placed on the left of the forks. If it is folded in a square, the open corner is the lower corner, nearest the plate.
The Water Glass is placed above the tip of the dinner knife. If there is a glass for another beverage, it is placed to the right of the water glass or in a line slanting down from the goblet to the right. If there are more than two glasses, they are grouped artistically.
The Bread and Butter Plate is placed above the tips of the forks so that it will be on a line with the water glass. The butter spreader is placed on the bread and butter plate parallel to the edge of the table, the handle toward the right and the cutting edge down.
The Place Card is best placed above the plate.
The Edge of the Service Plate, the tips of the handles of the silver utensils, and the lower edge of the napkin should be placed in exact alignment, usually one inch from the edge of the table. Some hostesses prefer that the silver be placed two inches from the edge of the table, so that there is a minimum of danger of its being brushed off the table.
Salts and Peppers are usually placed between every two covers, or individual sets may be placed, or, if there are only a few covers, sets may be placed at the ends of the table.
Covers should be placed directly opposite each other.
The Chairs are placed so that the line of the table-cloth is not broken.