Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Antique Salt Cellars

There was a time when salt cellars played an important role on the dining table for the host or hostess.  As a result of it being such an expensive commodity several hundred years ago, salt was seen as a luxury and it was the well to do that made salt cellars quite fashionable & a status symbol for the home.  A single salt cellar usually sat at the head of the table and was passed around throughout the meal.  The closer one sat to the salt cellar, the more important one was deemed by the head of the household.  Smaller cellars that were more accessible and with an open top became a part of Victorian table settings.  Fast forward to the 20th century when salt was no longer a luxury and when anti caking agents were added to make salt free-flowing, and one begins to see salt cellars fall out of fashion.  Luckily for the collector and for those of us who like to set a table with Good Things, this can prove to be a boon.

Salt cellars for the table come in silver, porcelain, cut glass or crystal and are usually fashioned with or without a lid.  Glass salt cellars, known as salt dips to some collectors, can be found in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors.  Depression glass ones can be fun to collect if you have a penchant for this type of glass.  My small collection of salt cellars are both clear glass & crystal, with such beautifully cut designs on them. 

Depending on the food I'm serving and how many people will be at my table, I love varying the cellars I put out.  For my every day table, I usually fill the simplest of depression glass cellars with kosher salt along with one that contains ground pepper.  If I'm going to have something a bit more formal, I use those that will complement my glassware, china & silverware.  Cellars filled with pepper for guests to sprinkle on their food are always included.  I try very hard to make sure every place setting has salt & pepper cellars, but if I lack enough of them for this to be possible, I place a duo between two place settings.  This type of set up is more pleasing to the eye when entertaining, because large salt & pepper shakers don't have to distract one from the other arrangements on the table. 

I realize that salt cellars aren't for everyone, but I sure enjoy using them.  Keep an eye out for these little dishes the next time you're at an antique shop.  If you're lucky, you may even find the original spoons that go with them!

Although salt cellars are no longer used for every day table settings, I still love setting my table with antique cellars for lunch or dinner. 

These are inexpensive depression glass cellars that are easily found at antique stores and online auction sites.  I love their simple faceted design.
This quartet sparkles quite beautifully.  They have bottoms hand cut in a diamond pattern with petal shaped rims.  I love using these on the table.

Take a closer look at the bottom of one.  A sunburst pattern is elaborately hand cut with perfect precision.  Simply beautiful.

These oval shaped salt cellars are cut differently.  The bottom two are ridged and have a snowflake design at the bottom.  The top two have smooth rims & exteriors.

Here's a look at the snowflake design on the outside bottom.  

A plain ribbed oval bottom.

Among my favorite ones are these octagonal bucket shaped salt dips.  They have tiny feet on which they stand along with a sawtoothed rim.
 A scalloped rim adorns this hexagon faceted cellar.  The glass is quite thick.

This has a pretty sunburst pattern on the bottom.

 The shape of this duo reminds me of French jelly jars. 

 A trio of footed salt cellars that I cherish.  They get placed on the table for special occasions.

Spoons or 'shovels' are sometimes found as part of a set, but can also be purchased separately.  Don't pass them up if you ever come across any. 

These tiny open top vessels always elevate my table settings no matter how informal the meal may be, without making anything seem too fussy or formal.  


With more and more of us becoming savvy gourmands, salt is no longer the "it pours when it rains" item it was several decades ago.  Experimenting with salts from all over the world is de rigueur for the most discerning cook & host, and to my mind that is a very Good Thing.  Although salt mills & salt shakers will always have a place at the table and in the kitchen, I think it's safe to say that salt cellars can once again grace a dining table for guests. 

Many is the time I've come across a story or crafting project that takes one object and forms it into a salt cellar.  I have yet to make some out of eggs and sea shells or even hollowed out nut shells.  In the meantime I can access and use the antique ones I do own, and set a table that is as suitable today as it was a hundred years or more ago.  Happy Entertaining!


Anonymous said...

I've come across this type of dish before, but never knew what they were used for. They are beautiful! You don't have silver ones?

David said...

I don't have silver ones (I wish!), but if you're interested in collecting them, make sure you have glass dips to put in them as salt is corrosive. Take a second look at the ones you encounter at shops. You may end up starting a collection for yourself!


Marion's Kid said...

I use mine all the time David. I don't have the spoons but put half salt half pepper in them,per Martha, and let the guest use their knives or spoons to use. Then when the party is over I combine all of the little charms and use them in the kitchen for meats and other cooking needs. Thanks for sharing and I will keep an eye out for the "shovels" .

David said...

I LOVE IT! I'm so glad other people are using theirs and enjoy them. I was thinking to myself last night: "what type of meal would I not use them for?" I suppose if I were eating bbq chicken & potato salad, or if I was having a burger & fries...

Marion's Kid said...

David, I also have small silver salt and pepper shaker that are cute,cute,cute. If my party is small enough I set out the salt cellars for salt, and the silver shaker for pepper.I have enough that a party of 12 each gets there own set.
Just another idea to use the small,overlooked,I think, amenities of years gone by. And it is such fun!

David said...

Well now I'm officially jealous! Love love love!!

Mrs. Rice said...

How can you tell the difference between egg cups and footed salt dips? Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

David said...

It's sometimes hard to distiguish between the two, but I've always found footed salt cellars to be a lot smaller than egg cups. Some egg cups are wide enough to have an egg sit halfway down into the cavity of the bowl. Salt cellars are just big enough for about 1-2 tablespoons of salt, they are not that deep and cannot have an egg sit well. (not always though...there are large salt cellars with wide bowls). I hope this helps.

Mrs. Rice said...

I appreciate the free education, and I think that I have a good understanding of salt dips now. Thank you very much for the help!

David said...

No problem! Have fun collecting.


jeanna said...

Hi I have a salt cellar that is suare with a divider in the center and the glass has what appear to be a few tiny pieces of rock in it,like it was made into iit by accident.DO you have any idea what this means? Thanks

David said...

I have a few salt cellars with those imperfections too. My guess is that the glass was not completely clean when it was being made into the shape, therefore one has those "bits" imbedded in the glass. Personally, I don't mind it at all because I think it gives the cellars a bit of character.

Deb said...

I have inherited a box of salt cellars from my Mother. I have kept some but don't need them all. What is the best way to go about selling them? I don't think they are expensive....just a very enjoyable hobby for her.


David said...

Well, what I would do is separate them by design/style. If you have more than one of a particular design, offer to sell them together (I like buying them this way because it makes it easier to gather a small collection). You can go into a local antique store to see if they're interested in buying them off of you or you can list them on craigslist or ebay.

Good Luck!

Dianne said...

Several years ago I inherited my father's collection of salt cellars and have gradually added to it myself. I have over 300 of them. I must admit I've never even thought about actually using them!

David said...

You should use them Dianne! They make wonderful additions to a nicely set table. I would love to see what salt cellars you do have.

Anonymous said...

have you ever seen a glass divided little salt dish - the antique store owner said it was a salt and pepper dish - cannot find a picture of the one I saw online

David said...

I've never come across a divided salt & pepper dish before. Do you have a picture of it? How interesting.

Nancy Baggett said...

Those are just lovely. I have a couple that were my grandmother's that I just treasure!

sammie said...

I have stumbled on this because I found this lovely swan with silver movable wings and had no clue what it was. I'm going to go back and buy it. Can you tell me how to tell the quality of it? I see them ranging from $20-$150.... some crystal with silver vs silver plate... but this is very old and the body so small i can't tell if it's crystal... nor can i tell if it's plating. Are there some tips for this?

David P. said...


I've never seen a crystal/glass & silver salt cellar in the form of a swan before. What I can tell you is that the true sign of crystal vs. glass is when you hear a ping vs. a thud after tapping the vessel with our fingernail. Try it: tap your fingernail against the cellar and hear if it has a slight ping or not. The ping will let you know that it is indeed crystal. If you just hear a thud, then it's glass.

As for silver-plate vs. sterling, look for the silverware markings anywhere. The numbers 925 or .925 or the words Sterling anywhere will let you know it's sterling.

I hope this helps. Send me a photo via email if you have a moment, because I'd love to see it. :)