While wandering the rows of a British antique shop, a glint of light catches your eye. You notice a jar, about six inches tall, then study its jewel-toned pressed glass, fitted in an embellished, silver holder. The matching silver lid and the accompanying pair of tongs are both adorned with decorations. It’s clear that this is no ordinary container. But what could be worthy of such an elegant presentation? Pickles. You’ve found a Victorian-era pickle castor.
Nineteenth-century British families enhanced their dining tables with these containers, which became increasingly elaborate as they gained popularity. By 1860, the contraptions’ ornaments depicted everything from flowers to miniature gargoyles. Not only did pickle castors convey status, they connoted one’s power to have servants. Household kitchen staff were responsible for preparing and preserving the jar’s contents (pickled produce) then using it to display the fruits of their labor.
By 1890, well-to-do citizens had made the pickle castor a popular item. But a decade later, it was out of fashion. The turn of the century, and Queen Victoria’s subsequent death, marked the end of the era. The decorative piece remained in quiet obsolescence (not that it was ever useful, per se) until collectors took a renewed interest in Victorian glass art in the mid-1980s. The pickle castor revival peaked with the rarest of jars selling for as much as $1,500. Today, interested parties can acquire a standard pickle castor for less than a hundred bucks. In other news, a glass jar full of pickles from the supermarket still costs significantly less.
Need to Know
Pickle castors are sold in antique shops and online. Often, the metal holder will be original, but the glass insert will be a reproduction.
Visit England with Atlas Obscura Trips
Folklore and Magic of Southern England
Mythical castles and ancient witchcraft, ecological biomes and fairy-tale forests, sea tractors and flaming tar barrels—all this awaits you on our one-of-a-kind exploration of southern England's historic haunts and eccentric traditions.