Over the years we had found these in pieces, a cruet here, a jar there. We fell in love with the crystal bottles, stoppers, and silver-plate lids. We were lucky enough to recently acquire a collection of mostly complete sets, and dove into their history and uses. Seeing so many all together, there was a myriad of sets, each so unique.
They are called castor sets. The Antique Almanac is a great resource, and has this to say about the history of castor sets.
Just about every Victorian dinner table had a device called a castor, filled with jars and bottles of condiments, sitting in its center. According to directions for setting the table given in cookbooks of the period, that’s exactly where it should have been. The revolving castor set was one of the most widely used pieces of Victorian tableware. The castor set was such an important part of the table setting, that no matter how humble, a family would have one sitting in the middle of their table. But castor sets go back even further.
People used castor sets holding just salt and pepper as far back as the 17th century. Sterling silver castor sets, containing a sugar castor, mustard pot, spice dredger or shaker, bottles for vinegar and oil, and other spice holders became popular by the 18th century. But it was the Victorians that made the castor set de rigeur at meals.
The American Victorian castor set, made of silver plated Britannia metal, is the type most collected today. It held several glass bottles. One pair was for salt and pepper. Usually there was a pair with glass stoppers for oil and vinegar. One bottle had a hinged lid with a slot for a spoon. This was for mustard. Other bottles could hold soy sauce, spices or “castor” sugar which was a pounded sugar—not powdered sugar and
not granulated sugar—which cooks made by pounding loaf sugar with a mortar and pestle.
The sets that we acquired are silver plated, mostly British, and Victorian era. We did some minor cleaning because these were coated with years of dust. We love the natural aged patina of the silver plate. Our mission was to repurpose, because no one wants food in these. While collecting to sit on a mantle is great, putting something to use is always what we prefer.
Anything old, beautiful, and small always lends itself to being an altar or tabletop piece. In this first photo, the cruet is used to hold a meditation oil, dried herbs and a secret wish are buried in the castor jar, and the salt shaker holds earth. Part of our mission is to elevate the everyday. Having these gorgeous items to carry wishes, hold precious stones, oils or herbs, infuses a bit of magick into a nightly ritual.