Friday, 29 August 2014

In a bit of a pickle....

I was at a local auction house a year or so ago. I like to go every now and then to sit and look at what is on offer, get my hopes up for a purchase, only to have them dashed when the bidding goes way over my limit and I go home empty-handed. On this particular occasion I bid for and won a box of ephemera - I can't even remember what was in it that attracted me, a bunch of old wooden bow saws I think - and when I got it home I found a couple of interesting items buried inside, one of which I was hoping someone out there could help me to identify.

Firstly there was this rather nice little jointed box.

It has a hinged lid and wrought handle. It is rustic and roughly made with a nice carved pattern front and back. Whilst I liked it, and it has lived ever since on our hearth, and whilst it had clearly been made to look old (there is  a lot of surface gunk and muck), I didn't for a second think it was anything but a replica, mostly because there was something quite modern looking about the staples that hold the handle and lid ring on.

Then there was this:

Again, its wooden, roughly carved from a single piece of timber, with some basic decoration and five semi-circular hollows. Now, I am certainly no historian, but I thought I recognised this item as soon as I saw it. I seem to remember seeing one just like it in an old history text book from way back when I was at school. In this particular book it was called a Tudor pickle tray. It would be placed on the table at a meal or feast with various preserves, pickles or chutneys in the hollows to enhance and embellish the otherwise rather plain food.

I have since scoured the internet, convinced that if I searched for Tudor or Elizabethan or medieval pickle tray or condiment tray, I would be sure to get a positive result. However, try as I might, I have as yet found nothing.

What I was wondering was, does anyone out there recognise this item of treen? Does anyone know what it is - is it my illusive pickle tray? And if so, how can I go about discovering if it is real or not? I am not naive enough to think I have a genuine piece of Tudor tableware, but equally, I'd hate to think it was the real thing and all this time it has sat in my garage, gathering dust and rotting away.

Any suggestions?


  1. Look for spice tray or nail tray for shoe maker...

  2. Thanks for the suggestion - I can't find anything like it for spice tray; I like the nail tray suggestion. The only thing that doesn't ring with that is the wear in the bottoms of the hollows that are worn as if they had something acidic or caustic in them and I'm not sure that nails would have had that effect?

  3. I asked my colleagues more than a year ago on the box at the top and one of them provided the answer today. She found the answer in a Dutch countryside magazine, where several experts provided this conclusion: It is a box for cartwheel grease. Most convincing the photo of a cart where this box is hanging at on of the sides.

    1. Hi Marijn
      thanks for your suggestion regarding my box question. Do you have a copy of the picture with the grease box? Could you email it to me?