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ENGLISH SILVER SALT
(largely based on "Old English Plate" by Wilfred Joseph
Cripps, sixth Edition, John Murray, London, 1899)
The salt was the principal article of domestic plate in
English houses of whatever degree. The massive salt cellar,
which adorned the centre of the table, served to indicate the
importance of the owner and to divide the lord and his nobler
guests from the inferior guests and menial, who were entitled to
places 'below the salt' and at the lower ends of the table only.
It seem rather to have served this purpose than to hold salt for
the meal, a supply of which was usually placed near each
person's trencher in a smaller salt-cellar, called a 'trencher
There are four pattern of Old English salt-cellars of which
examples have been come down to our time.
|The great salt
was , therefore, an object of considerable interest, and
it was often of great magnificence and of curious device
(... in the shape of a dog, an olifant, a dragon, a lion
...). Fifteenth century wills mention salts of every
shape and size and kind. Salts square, round, plain,
high, low, with covers and without, in silver and silver
gilt are found.
The All Souls'College, Oxford has a fifteenth
century salt called the 'Huntsman salt' from the
standing figure bearing upon his head the receptacle for
salt (a rock-crystal box with hinged lid).
The salt use is widely illustrated in Sixteenth century
treatise containing suggestion on how the chief
salt-cellar should be placed (... in the middle of the
table according where the principal sovereign shall seat
... the second salt at the lower end ... ) or how to use
the salt (only with 'kleen knife' and avoiding to dip
the meat into the salt-cellar).
the 'Huntsman salt' at the All Souls'
By the middle of the sixteenth century we come to the second
type, and the earliest of this class again is at Corpus Christi
College, Oxford. It is a 1554 cylindrical standing salt
ornamented with repoussť and engraved work in a pattern formed
of three principal cartouches with central bosses, the intervals
filled with foliated scrolls. The cover is surmonted by a
stuatuette of a boy with a staff of shield
|First come the
hour-glass salts of the reigns of Henry VII and Henry
VIII (five or six hallmarked and a pair undated). Two
are at Oxford, Corpus Christi College and New College.
The New College salt is dated 1493 and was given by
Walter Hill. It serves well as an illustration of these
Another pair of this class of salt are of 1518 and 1522
and are in the possession of the Iron-mongers' Company
in London. They are six-sided in plan, with raised lobes
alternately ornamented and plain.
The New College, Oxford, salt dated 1493
the six sided Iron-mongers' Company, London,
These cylindrical salts occur oftener than the square ones and
an example is one in the possession of the Corporation of
Norwich, given by Peter Reade and made in Norwich in 1569.
The Hammersley salt at Haberdashers' Hall is of 1595 and it
presents a drum repoussť with pastoral subjects contrasting with
the conventional decoration common in this period.
The square type is represented by the 1569 salt belonging to the
It has four panels at the sides, in bold relief, with four
female figures representing Virtues and the cornice and foot
boldly molded and richly embossed.
The whole rests on four sphinxes and the cover is surmounted by
a female figure standing on a vase.
the Corporation of Norwich cylindrical salt
the Haberdashers' Hall 1595 salt cellar
the 1569 Vintners' Hall salt-cellar
|At the very end
of the sixteenth century we find a circular bell-shaped
salt (or spice box) in three tiers or compartments. This
shape was much in fashion but only for a few years. The
example illustrating this shape belongs to Christ's
Hospital, London and is very representative of its
period. The two lower compartments form salt-cellars,
and the upper one serves as a pepper-castor.
the 1607 Christ's Hospital, London, salt
Last of all must be described the curious and unique salt-cellar
built 1698 in the shape of a lighthouse. It has three storeys:
the upper one empty, the next with a lid perforated for pepper
and the lowest as a large box, empy as the uppermost.
|Next comes the
simple and well-known form of salt from 1638 (the date
of one of the earliest known) to 1685, when circular
examples as this in the in possession of the Worshipful
Company of Mercers was made. Other similar salt-cellars
of this period are square or octagonal.
It will have been observed how carefully the earlier
salts were covered to preserve cleaness of the salt, and
perhaps to prevent the introduction of poison; in these
later ones the small projected arms were for supporting
a napkin with which it now became usual to cover the
salt-cellar with the same object.
Mercers' Hall, London, 1685 octagonal salt
English text revised by Jayne Dye
an elaboration of Giorgio Busetto for
www.Silvercollection.it 'A Small Collection of Antique
Silver an Objects of Vertu'