Interior Decorating Information

Pass the Salt - Its a Hot Collectible

Part of the attraction of any collectible is the story that surrounds it, and salt-cellars have a tale to tell. Here's what you need to know about this condiment collectible.

The Salt

Salt-cellars, sometimes called "the salt," open salts or salt dips, have been around for centuries. They are the dishes from which salt was served with tiny spoons or the end of a knife blade. In informal situations, you could pinch the salt from the dishes.

Early salt was coarse and caked in humid weather. It had to be kept in open dishes so that the coarse salt could be broken up before serving.


Salt-cellars were made of many materials including wood, glass, pottery, pewter, crystal, sterling and Faberge. They ranged in style from unadorned, simple-shaped glass to chic decorative sterling silver.


In the Middle Ages, where you were seated in relation to the placement of the salt on the table signified your social stature. The desirable seating position was "above the salt," a term that is still sometimes used. Wealthy Romans' liberal use of salt, a precious commodity at that time, broadcast their social status.

One of the most famous salt-cellars is depicted in Leonardo da Vinci's painting "The Last Supper." It shows an upturned salt-cellar in front of Judas, which signifies bad luck or bad faith.

Salt-cellars became archaic in the early 19th century when new glass technology developed. Glass salt shakers were born and salt-cellars were obsolete.

Desirable Collectible

Salt-cellars are attractive collectibles. They are unique and decorative. You can have an assortment yet they do not take up too much space. Plus, they are not too expensive so you can develop a collection without breaking the bank, ranging in price from a few dollars to pricier crystal or sterling silver.

Antique shops, flea markets, garage sales and E-bay are all good sources for salt-cellars.

Martin Swinton owns Take-A-Boo Emporium, an antique shop located in Toronto, Canada. He does furniture restoration, caning and rushing repairs, custom reproductions, upholstery, teaches courses on antiques and does appraisals for estates and community events. He can be reached at 416-785-4555 or by visiting

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