The Victorian Table

By Karen Parr-Moody


The sumptuousness of the Victorian table cannot be exaggerated. The dining room, which has historically been a stage for displaying one’s wealth, was filled by upper-class Victorian with a dizzying array of dining trappings, right down to a dozen or more forks used for different foods. Genteel homes provided every last utensil, including grape scissors, asparagus tongs and lobster picks, as touching food was frowned upon.


A refined manner of eating was one way to display one’s social bearing, so any Victorian of good breeding would know how to use a pickle castor, which was a glass jars about six inches in height that was seen in the better homes from the 1870s to around 1900. The photo, right, features a pickle castor topped by a butterfly and graced with hand-painted floral details ($420; GasLamp Too Booth T-103).


Victorians were wild about the practice of pickling – they pickled all forms of vegetable and fruit – so such castors would have been de rigueur in the finer homes.  Each castor had a frame that was typically made of silver or silver plate; it was topped by an arched handle, on which was added a small hook that held a pair of tongs. The photo, left, features a pickle castor made of satin glass ($390; GasLamp Too Booth T-103).


Pickle castors reached their height of popularity by around 1890, but fell out of fashion by 1900.


In the 1840s a new method of silver plating was industrialized, which allowed aspirational households to acquire a less expensive alternative to sterling silver while looking as stylish as others. The silver knife rests, in the photo at right, were among such silver-plated items ($39; GasLamp Too Booth T-101). Knife rests were invented prior to the Victorian Era, but like everything else, the Victorians took them a step beyond average by reinterpreting them in numerous materials, including porcelain, crystal, glass, silver, gold and mother of pearl. On a formal table, such dainty bars propped up knives and kept the tablecloth spotless.


The Victorian Era saw an explosion in silver items that were highly decorated, including the engraved vignettes that borrowed from nature. The Victorian silver plate tray, photo left, is graced with a vignette of birds and berries, as well as a practical handle ($65; GasLamp Too Booth T-101).


The sugar cube was invented in the 1840s in Moravia, then patented in 1843. It wasn’t properly marketed, however, so it didn’t make it into widespread use until the 1870s. But no matter what the delivery system, afternoon tea experienced by a proper lady would have included sugar, as well as the proper accoutrements.  


This sugar bowl in the photo, right, is an example of what is called Flow Blue ironstone, which came into existence in 1825 through a discovery in the transferware process ($115; GasLamp Too Booth T-106.).  The pattern, Pelew, was designed at the pottery factory operated by Edward Challinor; it dates to the mid-1800s and falls into a category of design that included greenery of the Orient, with temples in the background and figures dressed in Asian garb in a garden setting.


Those Victorians made meals complicated, but the result was a tableaux of beauty. Why not take a page from their book? Pickle castor and Flow Blue teapots are arguably more interesting than their modern counterparts.


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