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.
Later, 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.”
From 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.”
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.
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.