Dear Helaine and Joe: I received this as a little girl. My grandmother said it was purchased in Boston in 1867. I have drawn the markings and enclosed money for you to return my photos. — S.A., Grand Island, Neb.
Dear S.A.: When it came to dining, our Victorian ancestors seemed to require a utensil for every purpose and a special container for every type of food.
It is a little hard for us to believe, but this lovely glass and silver-plated apparatus was designed to be placed on the dining table or sideboard where it held the lowly pickle. Called a "pickle castor," these containers are currently very popular with Victoriana collectors and prime examples have become quite hard to find.
The markings on the base of this piece tell us that the silver-plated frame was manufactured by James W. Tufts of Boston. However, it could not have been made anywhere near the 1867 date as S.A.'s family history suggests.
Tufts started out his business life in a Charlestown, Mass., drug store as an apprentice. He soon had three apothecary shops of his own, but gradually he became more interested in making equipment for soda fountains and pharmacies.
This led him to the silver-plating business, and in 1875 he registered his trademark but did not incorporate his enterprise until 1881. The design on the pickle castor belonging to S.A. suggests that it was made closer to 1885 than 1867, and that is really what we would expect from a pickle castor of this sort.
It should also be understood that while Tufts made the metal frame, he did not make the blue-and-white spatter glass insert that the frame was designed to hold. The style of the enameled leaf-and-flower decoration on the glass as well as the type of glass itself lead us to believe that the glass is not American at all but was probably made in Bohemia, which is a region that is now located in the modern-day Czech Republic.
There were a number of glass companies around Boston at this time that easily could have provided the glass container for Tufts, but their products were often too expensive to be cost-effective. The Bohemian glassmakers, on the other hand, produced glass that ran the gamut from the very highest quality art glass to very mediocre quality utilitarian wares, and their products were generally cheaper than their American counterparts.
It is important to collectors that the glass containers found in pickle castors be the original, and we believe that this one is. If that is the case, and the overall condition is good, the insurance replacement value of this pickle castor is between $1,400 and $1,600 — and that will buy a lot of gherkins!
One last word to S.A. and all our other readers. We are sorry, but we cannot return photos; and please, do not send money.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of "Treasures in Your Attic" (HarperCollins, $18). Questions can by mailed to them at P.O. Box 12208, Knoxville, TN 37912-0208.