The Victorian Dinner Table – part of a new exhibition of dining silver.
Dressed for Dinner, the new selling exhibition at the London Silver Vaults, which opened last week, shows the silver that was used for the dinner table by the 18th century Georgians, the 19th century Victorians and by diners in the 20th century. A typical Victorian dinner table is typically an explosion of highly decorated silver with embossed and engraved patterns, borrowing from nature and myth, and grand statement pieces like epergnes.
An epergne was a tall impressive centrepiece carrying fruit or sweets – like the one we have in the Victorian part of the show which was made by the famous Elkington & Co silver manufacturers of the day. For everyday dining ‘à la russe’ – the fashion in the 1850s for having the different courses handed round by the butlers and footmen – there had to be plenty of serving dishes, often with double wall insulation to keep food warm, or entrée dishes that could be stacked. (We have a pair of those). Plus of course, different ladles for sauces, gravy or cream and serving spoons for their blancmanges, jellies and sorbets.
In the 1840s a new method of silver plating was industrialised so the aspirational couples of the day could buy a cheaper alternative to sterling silver and look just as swish to their friends. We have a pair of splendid two-arm candelabra in silver plate in the show.
With ‘à la russe’ dining, the variety of silver cutlery was important. Fish knives and forks made their first appearance and fruit knives and forks arrived on the table together with berry spoons for serving soft fruit and fruit compotes. There is a place setting of cutlery in the show in chased vine pattern from a dessert set for 12 complete with grape scissors and nutcrackers. This pattern was launched at the Great Exhibition of 1851. We also have the popular Victorian design, Queen’s pattern cutlery on display.
Touching food was frowned on in the 19th century so diners were presented with a growing array of specialist eating utensils for particular foods. They had to recognize asparagus tongs, lobster picks, marrow spoons, cheese scoops and grape scissors and know how to use them. We have them all.
Dressed for Dinner: Three centuries of fine dining and silver tableware
24 February to 24 May 2014 9am – 5pm. Saturdays 9am – 1pm.