Tag Archives: salt cellars

Pass the Salt, Please!

colorfulsalts

Before the invention of salt shakers, people used “salt cellars,” a.k.a. “open salts,” “salt dips” or “salts.”  They are fun to collect because most are inexpensive and don’t take up much room. Some are glass, usually clear.  Some are porcelain.  The smaller ones are “individual salts,” and the larger ones are “master salts.”

Years ago my sister Linda and I were in an antique shop in Clifton, Virginia, that sold pressed glass.  Linda showed me a tiny dish that I mistook for a candle holder.  We took it to the manager who explained that it was a salt cellar.  She asked if we had heard the expression “seated below the salt’?”  In Victorian times, the farther away you were from the salt, the less important you were in society.

individualsaltsLater, after learning about salt cellars, I was reading my favorite novel, ST. ELMO, by Augusta Evans Wilson, when I stumbled upon the following passage on page 124.  “He did not look at her, but resumed the conversation with his mother which her entrance had interrupted, and during supper Edna could scarcely realize that the cold, distant man, who took no more notice of her than one of the salt cellars, was the same whom she had left leaning over the Taj.”

abbysaltFrom that day on, I began collecting salt cellars and was so intrigued with them that I made mention of a salt cellar in Chapter 12 of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.  “Gideon’s a magnet for attractive women.  Their hands gravitate towards him.  Have you noticed?  Even your little friend Clara follows him with her eyes.  Women make a mistake chasing after men,” Mrs. Baldwin added with mild disdain.  “I know it’s politically incorrect to say this, but men are natural born hunters, not prey.  They like a challenge.  What a shame that Gideon has never found one, although Eleanor could prove to be the exception.  Effie, if you don’t steady your hand, you’ll drop the salt cellar.  It’s an antique you know.”

doublesets
In addition to individual salts and master salts, you can find double salts as well as mustard, pepper, and salt combos in flea markets, antique stores, and even thrift stores.spoons

Salt spoons are collectible also. They come in glass as well as sterling silver.  The glass spoons break easily.  I like the silver ones best, but they corrode if you forget and leave them in the salt.

Kosher salt works best in salt cellars because the grains of salt are larger than regular table salt.

teacandles

Most of the salt cellars I’ve seen were made in the 1800s, which makes them conversation pieces.  But collecting salts has a practical side too. I use my salt cellars not only for the dinner table but also for tea candles   If you’d like to learn more about salt cellars or start a collection of your own, consider 5,000 OPEN SALTS: A Collector’s Guide by William Heacock and Patricia Johnson.

Vintage Inspiration

Eastlake ClockThis antiquarian Eastlake clock belonged to my great-grandfather.  He and my great-grandmother were first cousins–double first cousins (whatever that means).  The clock sits on the mantle over the fireplace in my living room.  It inspired my unpublished story, which I named “The Eastlake Clock.”  How original is that?!

Charles Locke Eastlake, an English architect/writer, invented the Eastlake style of furniture, which dates to 1880. The popularity of Eastlake furniture quickly spread to America.  You can spot these fabulous antiques in any antique shop by looking for furniture with “Eastlake lines.”  I’ve found sofas, chairs, tables, beds, dressers, and washstands in this style.

EastlakeSofaCan you find the Eastlake lines on this sofa?

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While writing  THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I deliberately inserted some of my favorite antiques into the setting.  Most of the novel takes place in Northern Virginia. The Moore House in the City of Fairfax, VA inspired the fictional Warwick House.  Antiques abound in the antebellum Warwick House.  These include Eastlake furniture, a pincushion doll, and a salt cellar.

My display case above contains many salt cellars and two pincushion dolls. (Pincushion dolls that no longer have a skirt or a pincushion beneath the skirt are called “half dolls.”)

I have a large collection of salt cellars.  Most salt cellars are made of clear glass.  Others are made of tinted glass, ceramic, silver, or pewter.  Most date to the 1800s.  The larger ones are called “master salts,”  the smaller ones “individual salts.”  Other names for salt cellars are “salt dips” or simply “salts.”  These were in vogue hundreds of years before salt shakers existed.

Have you heard the phrase, “seated below the salt?”  It was NOT an honor to be seated below the salt.  Quite the reverse.

At least one salt cellar turns up in every piece of fiction I write.  It has become my “signature.”