R.T. sends me a unique silverplate revolving round buffet supper server set, large at 18” high by 24” diameter, asking the question: WHY was it a warmer?
It kept food hot by means of a deep hollow lazy susan water-well in which all the dishes sat; there’s a spigot at the base for drainage. It is comprised of three covered oval servers for, perhaps, Welsh rarebit, bacon sandwiches, or creamed vegetables, three master salt dishes of etched crystal, and a central tureen which may have had a cover at one time for hot soup. Two wooden handles, massive, to the sides, made it easier for the servants to take it to the sideboard for a late night supper; it must have weighed a bit when it was filled with scalding water.
The type of silver plate is English Sheffield, which is a unique type of silver plate, in that the base-metal on all things produced in Sheffield at this time was, in a greater degree, copper. So, the sheen of reddish golden glowed through the silver plating. The round form is accented by a scrolled boarder, stylistically putting it in the mid to late 19th century.
Warmers were needed because, firstly, if you could afford a warmer of any kind, your house was large enough to have rooms in which you ate or entertained far from the kitchen, which sometimes was downstairs or in another part of the property altogether. And warmers made the dining experience more private because the addition of hot water into a vessel made it such that you didn’t need waitstaff to attend the meal. And there’s also the style in which some families were occasioned to eat; breakfast for example was oftentimes a buffet set upon the sideboard; when you awoke, you wandered down and open the lids, and partook. Similarly, late night suppers were usually occurring after the servants had gone to bed, and enjoyed well into the night, especially after a ball or card party.
Remember that many of the homes of note in England and on the East Coast of the U.S. were “bleeding COLD” for a good half of the year, so hot food was hard to come by, unless the dishes were either insulated or warmed with a hot water reservoir.
The masses of warmers in the late 19th century (in a grander) house was legendary; to mention a few objects made to keep your food warm; at breakfast: an egg warmer, a little silver or silver plate egg shaped ovoid form on stand, a tea server, an urn form with silver or base metal warmer frame inside, a “biggin,” a coffee pot in silver or plate on a stand with a burner or candle feature beneath, the unique muffin warmer, a clamshell device in which your muffin was kept cozy, a bacon warner, a flat round deep boat with a hot water reservoir beneath, a BIG breakfast warmer for the whole enchilada, and a bun warmer that was a dome of protection for your ‘buns;’ one or many of these were sent up to your room by the maids on a tray or placed upon the sideboard downstairs in the dining room.
And that was JUST breakfast. If you were eating a dinner that was formal, and it had a soup course, at the table would be a spoon warmer, a small cannister with an underlying reservoir of hot water to warm JUST your spoon, or, if you were entertaining a small party and the staff was asleep, you would take your plate form a round, vertical silver plate plate warner with a small burner beneath. Vegetable warmers came in two forms, one, for the vegetables that dripped water, like the asparagus warmer, and one for the creamed vegetables, which was oval and had a top cover that mechanically “sank” into the base. The serving dish could also have a warmer base of hot water for the main course.
Let us say you were sleepy after all that hot food. You would retire with a small silver plate rectangular box with a few coals or hot water; your foot warmer; and, if, as many ladies did, you slept with gloves or mittens, a small silver plate mitten warmer.
I would love to find just one collector who collected warmers, but I doubt I will find her in California. If you DO, contact me; this is a fascinating area of cultural history. The value of the revolving silver plate buffet supper service set is $2,000.