Perhaps it's the traffic or the crowding or the fact that both spouses now are likely to have stressful jobs. Whatever the cause, nostalgia is in these days. From traditional homes and old fashioned gardens to the resurgence of antique and vintage furniture, people are returning to a fondly imagined past. Nowhere is this pattern more visible than in home eating area.
Never mind that most family meals are eating in the kitchen or family room. Home buyers still demand a dining room big enough to handle festive meals. And, increasingly, they are accessorizing the dining table with antique Victorian pieces.
Queen Victoria's reign in England 1837-1901 coincided with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of a prosperous middle class, both there and in the United States.
The new process of electroplating meant that middle class wives could imitate the aristocracy with elaborate table ornaments, hollow ware and flat ware at relatively little expense. Meals became ornate displays of china, silver and glass, proceeding from course to course.
Many of the items gracing Victorian tables are in antique stores today. Pickle castors, a popular item, are to be found in many sizes and shapes. Usually made with a jar in a pressed glass pattern with a silver plated lid in a plated container, the complete ones include a pickle fork. Pickle castors with colored glass or rare pressed glass patterns are scarce and consequently more expensive.
Castor sets, jars for oil, vinegar, salt & pepper mounted in a glass or silver frame are another popular item from earlier days. And every table needed a large pitcher, usually silver plated or sterling, though some combined crystal and sterling.
Bread trays and bowls came in either plate or sterling. With dessert came fruit baskets with swing handles, cake stands, and demitasse cups and saucers.
There were crumbers for clearing the table of crumbs between courses and of course there were call bells for the servants as well.
Two Victorian table additions most avidly collected today are napkin rings and knife rests. Figural napkin rings combine the hole for the napkin with figures of animals, people or objects and are mostly silver plated. Individual napkin rings, often bearing the initials or names of the original user, are mostly sterling silver. Knife rests both large size for a carving knife and the small individual size come in many materials: silver, silver plate, glass, horn and combinations. Figural knife rests are small, easy to display, and frequently amusing, attracting many collectors as well as users.
Th enormous range of flatware used by the Victorians warrants an article unto itself. According to Noel D. Turner (American Silver Flatware 1837-1910) pieces varied from manufacturer to manufacturer aw well as for different uses. In 1880, Reed & Barton offered a flatware line of 57 distinct pieces, including asparagus forks, serving and individual, bon bon spoons and tongs, lettuce forks, fish slicers, butter picks, berry and bacon forks, cheese scoops, cucumber servers and spoons: salt demitasse, egg, bouillon, cream soup, grapefruit and orange- the list goes on.
Victorian tableware was produced in vast quantities and much is still available. The Meriden Britannia Company, succeed in 1898 by International Silver, is probably the best known mark for plated American Victorian pieces.
Price for many items depends on condition; it is always desirable to buy pieces with plating intact as it is expensive to replate, but you can make exceptions for particularly rare or unusual finds. You will also find many pieces have been replated; collectors generally prefer those in original condition.
There are many books dealing with the subject of the Victorian table;
libraries and collector's book stores in antique malls carry a wide selection;
depending on your preference you'll find books on silver, silverplate,
china, table decoration, and specialty books on specific items. Here's
a collecting category that's no only useful but provides a bit of our social
history as well. -Barbara Williams Sackett
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