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What is the history of the silver butter dish and how is it used?

October 7, 2009
Butter in America

Cost and perishability combined, gave butter luxury status on the 19th Century table. In rural areas of the United States, women commonly made butter at home for their family’s consumption and for sale to the city’s grocers. This practice continued long after the advent of factory produced butter in the 1860’s.

In Early 20th Century, the standard for farm and factory production of butter was molding into one pound circular cakes, which measured roughly four inches in diameter. Butter dishes were usually designed to conform to the round shape and featured an ice chamber with a pierced liner, which served to keep the butter above melting ice (figure 1).

Butter Dish Liner (figure1)

Butter Dish Liner (figure1)

The use of a specialized butter knife (figure 2) helped to prevent individuals from plunging their own used knives into the main butter source. Shaping butter cylinders into curls, lead to the introduction of the butter pick (figure 3). Butter picks were specially made to retrieve one curl at a time, without breaking or dropping the delicate serving. This practice can still be found on tables in restaurants and homes, bringing a touch of exquisiteness to any meal.
Master Butter Knife (figure 2)

Master Butter Knife (figure 2)

Butter Pick (figure 3)

Butter Pick (figure 3)

Butter has always been apart of the dining experience. Today, using any knife, we use a foil wrapped piece of butter to season our accompanying side dishes. The butter dish is a piece of art that is a marvelous collectors item, guaranteeing hundreds of years of elegant use with a table setting.

Reference:  Joseph P. Brady (Silver Historian)

Do you have questions regarding sterling silver patterns or serving pieces?

Please comment and we will investigate an answer!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol Sue Ravenel permalink
    October 8, 2009 11:35 am

    Hi, Bev!

    What a nice addition to your communications! These articles are so informative and interesting, will look forward to reading more. It’s great to learn something new every day..a butter pick!

    Carol Sue

  2. Debbie Swann permalink
    October 8, 2009 1:16 pm

    Mr. Brady,
    You are the best, I always learn from you. Please keep on feeding us information.
    Debbie Swann

  3. Joseph Stabile permalink
    October 8, 2009 5:11 pm

    Hello Beverly,

    What fascinating information. Thank you for providing the history.



  4. Jacquelyn Goudeau permalink
    December 3, 2009 6:58 pm

    I have just purchased a set of 1895 Chantilly luncheon forks from your shop. The thing that drew me was the amount of information on line for me to read and get a background on…including the piece I have just read. I was also very pleased with the competant, understanding sales associate I spoke with when calling back to get extra information before placing my order.

    Over the past 30+ years I have had great fun going out, simply finding what presented itself in the way of silver. This time I knew I wanted a vintage pattern of a certain era, with significant history to it. They are for a set of French Limoges dishes that recently showed up in my life. I am calling them my “Peace” dishes. Now I begin the process of finding and ordering the Peace silverwear to go with it.
    Thank you for all you are doing to help me with this delightful work!
    Jacquelyn Goudeau
    San Francisco, CA.
    December, 2009

  5. December 9, 2009 11:12 am

    Interesting blogpost, did not thought it was going to be so amazing when I looked at your title with link!

  6. Nancy Cardwell permalink
    January 6, 2010 2:51 pm

    I’m trying to find information (possible appraisal) on my Great Grandmother’s Gorham Buttercup Butter dish. It has the lion, anchor, G on the bottom and the number A3966. I have taken it to several antique stores and appraiser’s and no one has ever heard of it nor can locate the A3966 number. It is round and has 3 pieces including a sterling pierced liner.


  7. November 6, 2011 9:41 am

    I like the valuable info you supply in your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and take a look at once more right here frequently. I’m slightly sure I’ll be told lots of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the following!

  8. May 8, 2012 11:13 pm

    I am in need of a liner for my Grandmother’s round Meridian butter dish, have searched the internet. Any suggestions?

  9. Bud Mitchell permalink
    January 23, 2013 5:46 pm

    Where do I start to find information on a round glass dish with plated top that was a bridal gift in 1878?

  10. March 17, 2013 3:34 pm

    Do silver butter dishes require a glass liner? Where could one find a round replacement liner, or a round pierced liner for an antique butter dish missing one?

  11. sandra sands permalink
    June 25, 2013 10:08 am

    I found a lovely silver butter dish at the salvation army. It cleaned up very nicely but it does have some pitting, not alot just a spot here and there. Is it possible to repair the pits and does this repair take away from the value of the piece? It has a stamp on the bottom of the base does this tell me where is was made at?

  12. Sandra permalink
    June 25, 2013 12:46 pm

    The stamp on the base of a silver butter dish I have is Primrose Stamp E.P. Copper 896. What does it mean? Where was it made? Is it vintage or antique?

    • June 28, 2013 3:56 pm

      Hi Sandra! The EP on the bottom of your butter dish stands for ElectroPlate which means is silver plated. Regarding the repair, as this piece is plated and not the same metal all the way through, the pitting cannot be polished out. To repair this piece might mean you would need to have it re-plated which we do not recommend. The cost to re-silver can be very expensive, often greater than the value of the piece. Also, it makes the item brand new all over again so you lose any historical value or antiquity to the piece as well. Use and enjoy just as it is. Polish with a soft polish – nothing too abrasive. If you have it sitting out, wash in warm soapy water periodically to keep it clean as that will slow the tarnishing down greatly as well!

      • sandra sands permalink
        July 11, 2013 12:32 pm

        How can I find out the age and where it was made?

      • July 13, 2013 2:06 pm

        Hello Mrs. Sands, If we can identify the maker of your butter dish and the ‘who’ we should be able to find the where and when! You may send us a photograph of the marks on the bottom of the piece – does it say sterling? I look forward to the additional information. You may visit our website for more information as well.

  13. jane flurry permalink
    August 20, 2013 5:41 am

    I recently came across this piece offered for sale on ETSY:

    Looking for more information lead me to this article. BUT I am still puzzled. Do you have any idea how this thing was intended to be used?

    It really looks to me like some sort of medieval weapon. I hope you can enlighten me.


    • August 20, 2013 2:39 pm

      The piece pictured in your link is a actually cheese knife with prongs in Colonial by Tiffany. One would cut or slice from a piece of cheese with the straight edge and then pick it up with the prongs! Butter would have been too soft to cut as this was made before refrigeration was common place. Please let us know if we can assist you with other pieces of interest!

      • jane flurry permalink
        August 20, 2013 7:29 pm

        I can sort of see that. Though as a thought experiment it seems that one would then have difficulty getting the cheese off the prongs without use of the fingers. It’s difficult for me sometimes to envision how people actually did things in more formal times.

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