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SILVER 'SALT THRONE' FROM TSARIST RUSSIA
The silver 'salt throne' is a traditional object of Russian culture.
Nevertheless its use was limited to a relatively short period: the more
ancient are dated around 1845-50, while their production ceased with the
Bolshevik revolution of 1917.
The 'salt thrones' are made of silver (on the left), pewter
or silver plated metal. Often they are decorated with bright
coloured cloisonné enamel (on the right)(1)
There are also 'salt thrones' with full enamel decorations (on
and a few examples made of birchwood of Karelia (on the right).
In Russia the salt cellar was kept at the entrance of the house and
a piece of bread dipped in the salt was offered to the guest as a
symbol of welcome. Otherwise the 'salt throne' had the place
of honour on the table. A small piece of bread was leaned on the
seat (at the center of the throne) and the guest dipped the bread in
the salt inside the throne.
S.Petersburg 1875, silversmith Sazikov: gilded interior
The back of the throne evokes the classic isba, the small wooden
house of Russian rural architecture, which you can find nearly
anywhere in the northern part of that country: the sharp-ended roof,
the crossed beams and the gable with obvious reference to the house
as a symbol of familiar affection, while the geometrical decorations
symbolize the perfection of the marriage union.
The salt cellar, presented to a young couple on the occasion of
their marriage, meant 'Best wishes' or 'We wish you well'.
Holes on the back of the seat represented the windows on the house
front, while the superior edge evoked the characteristic undulating
finish of Russian 'isbas'.
The back side of the throne has usually a most refined look as,
opening the salt cellar, the view of the front side is covered by
Since the ancient ages and in all the cultures the salt is a symbol of
life and immortality, faithfulness and friendship. The offer of salt was
a common practice among Arabic people, in Northern Africa and also in
Southern Italy (while in Tuscany a bit of bread with a drop of oil was
The bread evokes fertility and nourishment, both for the body and the
soul. Breaking the bread and touching it on the salt represents and
wishes a harmonious and long lasting friendship.
Often on the back of the throne or on the seat there were phrases
expressing best wishes or good fortune: 'Eat bread and salt but also
follow good advice' or 'Without bread and salt, the meal is not
Sometimes, a rooster, symbol of fertility and love, is represented
on the throne. However this omen is not flaunted and appears only
when the salt is opened (it is engraved on the underside of the
The silver salt throne is an item highly appreciated by collectors and
items available for sale are always rare. Obviously their prices have
risen and some 'fakes' are offered for sale on the antiquarian market
(objects of modern production, mostly cloisonné, with fake hallmarks of
(1) cloisonné: enamel surface embellishment where the colors are
separated by thin metal strips (forming cloisons)
Giorgio Busetto -
- 2005 -
English text revised by Jayne Dye