Salt Cellars

By Paula Kirwan


Throughout history, salt has been used for everything from preserving food to international currency to mummification. In ancient Rome, soldiers received salt as payment for their services, and from the Latin root word for salt, “sale”, we get the word “salary.” In ancient Greece, slaves were traded for salt, and if a slave was unruly, he was not “worth his salt.”  France’s punitive la gabelle, or salt tax, is often seen as a crucial impetus for the French Revolution of 1789. 


Salt was a precious commodity in the early days, and thus was an important centerpiece on the dinner tables of the wealthiest people. It was served in an ornate container made from precious metals and was placed in front of the host or an honored guest. The closer guests were seated to the salt cellar, the more status they had. (Photo, above right: One of a pair of salt cellars being sold for $30 at Showcase S-518).


Individual salt cellars eventually became part of the tableware in most households and, accordingly, their designs and materials became less ornate and more affordable.  Starting in the late 1800s and going into the 1900s, salt cellars made of beautiful crystal or cut or pressed glass became popular, and china sets sometimes included matching salt cellars (photo, left, one of the six salt cellars for $34 in B-106). Tiny silver, glass or metal salt spoons were used to dispense the salt. 


Collecting these lovely little bowls is rewarding, as salt cellars are not too difficult to find and can be very affordable. Collectors often specialize in particular shapes or materials such as silver, milk glass or Depression glass, while others look for cellars from fine china manufacturers like Limoge, Spode, Noritake or Lenox. The little salt spoons are a bit harder to find, but they are out there. (Photo, right, a salt cellar for $4.50 at Booth  B-2022).


The salt shaker was invented in the 1850s by John Landis Mason, inventor of the Mason Jar. But it took about 90 years, into the mid-twentieth century, for households to give up their salt cellars and start using shakers. However, with the wide variety of gourmet salts that are now available, salt cellars are starting to make their way back onto the table, so your collection can be both interesting and practical in today’s world!





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