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Salt cellar

Salt cellar

  • Place of origin:

    London (manufactured)

  • Date:

    1874-1875 (hallmarked)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Smiley, Thomas (manufacturer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver and enamel

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 125b, case 2

Object Type
Salt has always been the most important condiment on the table. The large centrepiece salts of the medieval to Tudor period were replaced in the 17th century by small individual salt cellars for each guest.

The Victorian Dining Table
At grand dinners individual silver, electroplate or glass salt cellars with spoons were placed above every place setting. It was just as correct to offer one salt cellar between two, which would still enable guests to have easy access to the condiment. At other meal times salts were often placed at the corners of the tables, and cruet stands, which were normally kept on the sideboard, could be placed on the table.

Design & Designing
Salt cellars could be purchased in a huge number of styles, from Gothic to Neo-classical, to match the consumer's taste or the fashion of the moment. Writers such as Charles Eastlake (1836-1906) criticised the endless Victorian appetite for novelty. In Hints on Household Taste, published in 1868, he wrote: 'There was a time when it was thought tasteful to let every knick-knack for the table assume an appearance which utterly belied its real purpose. Some of my readers may remember the little gilt Cupid wheeling a barrow full of salt, which once appeared in many an English dining-room.' The general form and the ball feet of this salt looks back to the early 19th century.

Physical description

Silver and enamel, one of a pair, circular bowl with the sides sloping inwards, resting on three ball feet. The sides decorated with a pray of flowers, engraved and enamelled.

Place of Origin

London (manufactured)


1874-1875 (hallmarked)


Smiley, Thomas (manufacturer)

Materials and Techniques

Silver and enamel

Marks and inscriptions

London hallmarks for 1874-5

Mark of Thomas Smiley


Height: 3 cm, Diameter: 5 cm

Descriptive line

Silver and enamel, London hallmarks for 1874-5, mark of Thomas Smiley.

Labels and date

British Galleries:

Solid silver salt cellars feature in the Mappin Brothers catalogue of 1897. They came in sets of 4 or 6, including salt spoons, and were presented in a Morroco leather case. For a richly chased pattern, the price for a set of 4 was £4 15s (£4.75p), for a set of 6, £7. According to the cookery writer, Mrs Beeton, '....there should be a salt cellar between every two persons. Unless silver salt cellars are used, the glass ones should match the rest of the service. ' [27/03/2003]


Silver; Enamel


Raising; Enamelling


Metalwork; Tableware & cutlery; British Galleries; Containers


Metalwork Collection

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