Here is a guide to Victorian Silverware that can help you navigate your way around the various complexities of antique cutlery.
This seems like an impossible amount of cutlery, but don’t worry – there’s more. If a canteen of cutlery doesn’t grab you, there’s Victorian serveware for everything you could possibly want to dish out to your dinner guests.
The Victorians were undeniably dedicated to dinner time, and this commitment was obvious when checking out the variety of serving spoons that can be found from this era. Spoons are universally useful, and have a history that spans thousands of years, but the Victorian era could possibly be considered as the golden age of spoons. There was a shocking variety available, including: salad servers, gravy straining spoons, fruit servers, basting spoons, cruet spoons, caddy spoons, and somehow even more.
As you can imagine from what we’ve already covered, the Victorian dinner table was more than a little crowded. While at times it seems confusing, thankfully the Victorians had their heads screwed on right when it came to naming items, and most silverware serves the purpose you’d expect. A mustard spoon, for example, is for serving mustard. Basting spoons are for basting. Caddy spoons – for those not yet in the know – are for measuring out tea, before the simplicity of tea bags.
Beyond spoons, there are bigger items of silver from the Victorian era that also fall under the ‘specialist serveware’ category. Tureens, for example, are an item that hasn’t seen much of a revival in the last 150 years.
Tureens are traditionally used for serving stews or soups, and as they are designed to serve a large number of people at the dinner table, they are usually very large and deep, with beautiful and intricate designs. As tureens became a symbol of wealth in the Victorian era, they became more and more elaborate, with many of them being engraved with marital or family armorials. Tureens were hugely popular, as hot broth-based meals such as the aforementioned stews and soups were the popular choice for a long time, as they were easy to cook with few ingredients in a single pot. Since this time, sadly, most dinner parties don’t consider soup to be the foundation stone of sophisticated dining and entertainment.
You would be forgiven for thinking that we’ve already covered this topic, as tureens don’t seem too far a stretch from bowls, but these bowls are not for food. These Victorian presentation bowls are actually Monteith bowls – more commonly referred to today as punch bowls.
Potentially one of the oldest recorded items of silver produced, Monteith bowls originated in the late 1600s, and were initially intended to keep glasses cold. Punch swiftly became an immensely popular drink in England, so much so that by the 18th Century, spirits were banned due to the disorderly conduct they produced. Little has changed there.
Cups and Jugs
Let’s jump right in with the jugs. Of course, jugs aren’t specialist items restricted to the Victorian era, but they’re definitely worth checking out for their design and intricacy alone.
Claret jugs are the natural follow, as their silver iterations originated in the early 19th century, making them quintessentially Victorian, in both design and splendour.
Claret jugs are so named after French origins; with ‘claret’ referring to the colour of Bordeaux wine. Before the Victorian period, claret jugs were frequently made with glass, but at the start of the 19th century, craftsmen began using silver to create hinged lids in place of the glass stoppers that the jugs had before this time. From here, entirely silver examples of claret jugs can be found, with varying degrees of complexity in their decoration.
With this selection, there’s little hope of fitting anything else on the dining table – which I suppose explains why Victorians had such enormous dining room tables.
Before we finish up though, let’s have a look at one more category of essential Victorian silverware.
It goes without saying that the term ‘tray’ expands to many different items when it comes to the Victorian era. There are: trays, salvers, platters, dishes, and even tazzas and charger plates, so make sure you’re comfortable.
It is entirely too easy to look at these items from a distance and find no distinguishable features between them. I can only imagine the stress of trying to blend in at a Victorian dinner party with this many different trays which all have different purposes, yet somehow all look eerily similar.
The feature to look out for when making distinctions between the various trays is the handles. Tea trays always have handles, a smart idea, as they are obviously designed for carrying teapots, cups, saucers, sugar bowls, milk jugs, caddy spoons, and slop bowls, which is clearly more than a simple handful. Salvers, however, do not feature handles; as they are intended for presenting food in a more ceremonial fashion, and handles somewhat detract from that.
Clearly, Victorian silverware is a very complex topic, with seemingly endless avenues to explore it will be easy to get lost. But, with this guide in mind, hopefully you have learned something useful about the countless possibilities available to those willing to explore this wonderful world of antique era.