Leave it to the Victorians to create a special utensil for the purpose of serving sardines and other small, flat fish during a formal dinner. A sardine fork may be a rarity these days, but it was once part of a complete place setting for formal dining. Antique sardine forks are considered very collectible, and no self-respecting Victorian of means would have been caught without one.
A sardine fork is designed differently from other serving forks. The tines are noticeably shorter than traditional meat or salad forks, for one thing. There may also be 5 or 6 tines on this fork, with the outer tines flared outward to suggest a trident or other royal scepter. Other fish forks may be used to serve a fish dish, but a fork for sardines is generally presented only when long, flat fish such as sardines are on the menu.
The design appears to provide enough horizontal support to keep the sardine or other food item stable on the tines until it reaches the consumer's mouth. Without the benefit of a flat fork with numerous tines, the sardines might bend and fall apart under their own weight. This would prove very problematic during a formal dinner. The Victorian philosophy of designing a proper tool to perform a proper job most likely encouraged the development of a sardine fork for just such occasions.
A sardine fork does not always feature curved outer tines or multiple tines, however. There are three-tined versions of the fork available, and others which strongly resemble a small hair comb or rake. Silver is a popular material used to create formal versions, but forks carved from bone or wood are not uncommon.
Most likely due to the declining popularity of fresh sardines as a side dish or appetizer, the sardine fork has largely been replaced by other fish or meat forks in most formal flatware collections. These forks can still be custom ordered from select flatware manufacturers, however.