To say the Victorian dinner table was very well appointed is a true understatement, as we all know. I have always been intrigued by the number of communal vessels that were included on the well set dinner table. Their use was almost as intimidating as the individual place setting itself but, each communal vessel or "master" vessel had a counterpart which was part of each guests personal setting.
As salt was a rare and expensive condiment, salt held an important position on the set table. Gorgeous vessels made of silver in designs honoring man and nature adorned the finest tables. Master salt vessels featured glass liners, many even had expensive colored glass liners, that protected the silver from the contact with the harsh salt. From the beautiful master salt then each diner had their own salt dish to pinch or with a tiny silver spoon, sprinkle onto food.
This beautiful silver master salt features a cherub pulling a cart made of cobalt glass.
Master sugar bowls were traditionally part of meals and tea service as well. These vessels held one of the most prized items in any homes pantry, sugar. Always covered and many with side slides to hold teaspoons that would scoop sugar one time only as to not dampen the sugar in the bowl. These silver pieces were also heavily decorated and featured flora and fauna typical of the era.
This lovely silver master sugar & spooner features a bird perched atop the lid.
Butter was an extravagance that only homes with refrigeration were lucky enough to have. With that in mind, butter also had an important role on a fine table. The master butter dish would feature a lid as well as a side mounted holder for the master butter knife. A diner would use the master butter knife to place butter on their individual butter dish and then use their individual butter knife.
This elaborate domed silver butter dish has a pulley system hidden within the top handle that allows the lid to be lifted for use and lowered after, all with a tiny chain.
This is one of my favorite styles of victorian master butter dishes. The dairy cow handle and hooved legs make this a very fanciful and beautiful serving piece. It also has a side mount where the master butter knife rests.
This era seemed to literally have a serving piece for everything you could ever need on your table. Beautiful containers were the norm and they added to the elegance and opulence of the meal. Master vessels, whether simple or elaborate, made for the most spectacularly dressed table, which was every goal of all hostesses. Today, these century old heirlooms are now prized for their beauty over their usefulness, even though they may still be fully functional many of us have repurposed them to include them in our home decor.
Just for fun I wanted to share this example of a single victorian dinner place setting. This is where the statement "trial by fork" was born. I think we can see why.
Enjoy... and Happy Hunting!