Decorating With Victorian Era Tableware For The Holidays

Given the holidays are fast approaching, many of us will soon be setting festive Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Christmas tables for friends and family from near and far.  Of course, these place settings include conventional tableware like plates, silverware, and drinking cups and glasses.  However, as antique enthusiasts and collectors, have you ever considered adding a “vintage” twist to your table setting routines?  A service item from yesteryear makes a great conversation piece, introduces unexpected shapes and colors to your presentation, and adds new functionality to the meal!  Here are five dining room accessories that were chic in the Victorian era, but are little known – and seldom if ever used today.   If you are looking to mix things up just a bit, consider adding one – or all – of these decorative delights to your holiday table settings this year.

A bridal basket was used by brides to hold flower petals or their bouquets at the wedding dinner table.

Bride’s Basket

What it is:

Named because they were indeed a popular wedding gifts In the last quarter of the 19th century, these decorative items usually consist of a colorful or decorated glass bowl fitted within a silver plated, handled holder.  First expensively produced in all silver, companies quickly realized that they could greatly expand their market for these items by producing them with less costly materials. Brides would use them at their ceremonies to hold flower petals or their bouquets at the wedding dinner table.  Post festivities, they were used at home to display and serve sweets and desserts to guests. 

 Uses on today’s tables:

Why mess with perfection?  Even a diet dessert looks more delicious when presented upon these lovely vintage serving pieces!  Bride’s baskets also are an upscale way to offer up petite hors d’oeuvres, chips and dip, or a light cheese course.

Check out Bride’s Baskets on Worthpoint by clicking here! The Worthopedia currently has over 11,000 bridal baskets listed.

The “precursor” to what we now call cookie jars, Biscuit Barrels were designed to sit on the table and offer up cookies or biscuits in an elegant fashion.

Biscuit Barrel

 What it is:

The “precursor” to what we now call cookie jars, Biscuit Barrels were designed to sit on the table and offer up cookies or biscuits in an elegant fashion. They were not airtight; as such their role was really to beautify the table and not long term storage. Biscuit Barrels often had silver or silver plated handles and were made in porcelain or glass.  Many were decorated in floral or faux Asian patterns.  Some of the finest porcelain, as well as glass, manufacturers of the 18th and 19th century produced Biscuit Barrels for the consumer marketplace.

Uses on today’s tables:

Given their size and lidded form, vintage Biscuit Barrels are spot on as an impromptu holder for warm bread or rolls.  They also would be delightful filled with post meal treats, like nuts, dried fruit, or candies like M&Ms, Skittles, or licorice.

Check out Biscuit Barrels on Worthpoint by clicking here! The Worthopedia currently has over 20,000 biscuit barrels listed.

European porcelain manufacturers produced small lidded “sardine boxes” that would allow these savory treats to be presented in a sophisticated manner at the dining room table.

Sardine Box

What it is:

Sardines were all the rage in England in the 19th century. But, it was considered to be poor manners to serve these little fish directly from their packaging and tins.  As such, European porcelain manufacturers produced small lidded “sardine boxes” that would allow these savory treats to be presented in a sophisticated manner at the dining room table.  Many were elaborately and colorfully decorated with relief molding in sardine, aquatic, and other seaside motifs. 

Uses on today’s tables:

Given their proportions and shape, Sardine Boxes would make ideal covered butter dishes on today’s table.  They also would be fun to present mint jelly for a lamb dinner, or jelled cranberry sauce for a turkey dinner.

Check out Sardine Boxes on Worthpoint by clicking here! The Worthopedia currently has over 2,000 sardine boxes listed.

Usually appearing in pairs, these Victorian-era treasures are glass pedestal vases or candlesticks hung with one or more rows of dangling prisms.

Table Lustres

What they are:

Usually appearing in pairs, these Victorian-era treasures are glass pedestal vases or candlesticks hung with one or more rows of dangling prisms. The prisms caught and amplified the ambient light in the room, as well as magnified any light produced from burning candles. Table lustres came in every color and combination imaginable, and were designed as dining table, mantle, or sideboard decorations. Many featured elaborate etching, enameling, or hand painting.  Most were manufactured in England and Bohemia. It is not uncommon today to see vintage lustres electrified and converted to lamps or lights.

 Uses on today’s tables:

Table lustres designed as candlesticks can still fulfill that role – but also make wonderful and extremely eye-catching bud vases on a festive holiday table.  Those with more of a pedestal bowl form can easily be modified and repurposed to hold a tempting array of crudités, pretzels, and other favorite appetizers.

Check out Table Lustres on Worthpoint by clicking here! The Worthopedia currently has over 3,000 table lustres listed.

Epergnes, which can be made from silver or glass, vary greatly in presentation and complexity.

Epergnes

What they are:

Most likely named from the French word “épargne” meaning “saving,” these dramatic “centerpieces” were designed to conserve space on the table, as well as eliminate the trouble of passing dishes to the left and right for diners.  Epergnes, which can be made from silver or glass, vary greatly in presentation and complexity.  Most have one central presentation or serving area.   Off of this core extends several “arms” which terminate in any number of functional elements, including small serving plates, bowls, flower vases, candleholders, and baskets, among others.  These highly functional, aesthetically interesting, and elegant pieces were used for countless purposes, including lighting, table decoration, and presenting food and condiments efficiently.

Uses on today’s tables:

Given their “Jack of all trades” status, it’s hard to believe epergnes ever went out of style.  It could be because they were a lot of work to clean and maintain, given their often complex configurations. However, the holidays seem like a perfect time to put them back into circulation. After all, what single other household item can display flowers or seasonal decorations, hold gravy without spilling any, and offer guests a selection of after dinner mints all at the same time?

Check out Epergnes on Worthpoint by clicking here! The Worthopedia currently has over 21,000 Epergnes listed.


Rebekah Kaufman is a Worthologist who specializes in vintage Steiff and other European plush collectibles.  You can follow her blog, which focuses on vintage Steiff finds, Steiff antiquing and travel adventures, international Steiff happenings, and the legacy and history of the Steiff company at http://mysteifflife.blogspot.com.  Sign up for her Steiff newsletter by contacting her directly at steifflife@gmail.com.

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