Friday, June 29, 2012

Dinner Casters

Standing Salt with Cover
1584-1585
London
Gilt silver
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
The practice of providing condiments to accompany a meal dates back many centuries.  Salt first appeared on banquet tables during the Middle Ages, when it was a luxury restricted to the nobility.  Because of its significant status, salt was served from large-scale vessels crafted from precious metals such as gold and silver.  Known as salts or salt cellars, these highly treasured containers were periodically embellished with jewels, semi-precious stones and colored enamels.

Set of Three Casters
Made by Anthony Nelme (active 1685, died 1722)
1684–1685
London
Silver
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY




















Around the middle of the seventeenth century, table articles for shaking or "casting" pepper, dry mustard and sugar emerged alongside the salt cellar.   Casters, as they were termed, had the appearance of oversized salt-and-pepper shakers, featuring a tall body surmounted by a domed lid pierced with openings.  Typically fashioned from silver, the casters were made in sets of three, the tallest holding sugar.

In the eighteenth century cut-glass cruets, or bottles, for oil and vinegar joined the trio of silver casters.   The five containers were arranged neatly in a silver stand referred to as a cruet frame, which consisted of a base raised on feet and a framework of small rings to hold the cruets and casters.  By the late eighteenth century, casters and cruets alike were made of cut glass and all five bottles rested in a silver cruet frame enclosed by a low gallery.  

Cruet Frame with Casters and Cruets
Made by Robert Peaston (active 1756–1766)
1762–1763
London
Silver, glass
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Trencher Salt
Made by Thomas Ash (active 1652–1715)
1714–1715
London
Silver
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY

Throughout the eighteenth century, salt continued to be served from salt cellars, which were simpler and much smaller in scale than in previous centuries and typically made in pairs or sets of four.

By the Victorian period, condiments such as salt, pepper, sugar and mustard were no longer the expensive commodities they had been in previous centuries, when they were available to only the wealthy.  Consequently these condiments appeared on the dining tables of middle-class families.

Dinner Caster
Made by Wilcox Silverplate Company
c.1871
Meriden, Connecticut
Silverplate, glass
Photograph©Edmund P.Hogan
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the cruet frame and bottles evolved into the “dinner caster,” a stand arranged with the traditional glass cruets for oil and vinegar, but now including glass casters for several types of pepper and a lidded glass pot for prepared mustard.  The sugar caster disappeared from the set.  The most expensive dinner casters were made of silver.  From 1850 to 1900, the vast majority  were produced in Britannia metal, a silver-white alloy, or silverplate, making them affordable for the middle-class dining table.

Dinner Caster
c.1880
Made by Meriden Britannia Company
Meriden, Connecticut
Silverplate, glass
Photograph©DuMouchelles, Detroit, MI
Salt Cellar
Made by Andrew Ellicott Warner (1786-1870)
c.1835

Baltimore, Maryland
Silver
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,NY


In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the silverplate stand typically featured decoration derived from one of the many revival styles popular at the time such as Gothic, Rococo or Renaissance.  After 1880, the stands reflected the influence of the Aesthetic Movement, adopting Eastlake or Anglo-Japanese motifs, while the bottles--traditionally of clear glass with cut decoration--were frequently made of the new varieties of colorful "Art" glass.  In 1857,  Roswell Gleason and Sons, silverplate manufactures in Dorchetser, Massachusetts, obtained a patent for the design of an innovative dinner caster with revolving compartments that opened simultaneously to reveal the glass bottles inside.

Dinner Caster
c.1860
Made by Roswell Gleason and Sons (active 1851-1871)
Dorchester, Massachusetts
Silverplate, glass
Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, NY


Salt continued to be served from salt cellars, which were made of silver, silverplate, cut glass or pressed glass.  The salts were placed at regular intervals along the length of the dining table, at the corners or diagonally across from each other if there was only a pair, while the dinner caster stood in the center of the table.

Diagram of table setting for dinner, Godey's Lady's Book, March 1859

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