Ornate Celery Vases Brought Style to an Unexciting Vegetable

Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1519 - DP241433 Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1513 - ADA5473 Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 1511 - 187153 Celery Vase from Metropolitan Museum of Art - 9310 - DP206750 Celery Vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art - 667481 - DP341335
The Seller of Celery by John Ingram - Metropolitan Museum of Art DP826283
“The Seller of Celery” by John Ingram (18th c.)

When I typed “celery” into the CC Search box to search a few museums’ public domain collections to illustrate my previous post on celery on restaurant menus, I was expecting one or two results, perhaps a still life. And so I was surprised when the search returned a bunch of objects called “celery vases” from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It turns out that “celery vases” were a thing. And some of them are attractive works in glass or ceramic.

Celery was a popular vegetable in the 1800s and early 1900s — often served as an appetizer with other raw or pickled vegetables. And so the artisans of the era created appropriate dishes to hold the crisp green stalks. (I wonder: are potters and glass makers working feverishly on the ideal plates for avocado toast or bowls for kale salad?)

What are Celery Vases?

I asked myself this question immediately after I found them on CC Search. And when I asked the internet, I found what I was looking for in two posts:  What is a Celery Vase? (from Hunker) and Celery at the Dining Table (from At Home in the Nineteenth Century). My summary below draws on the posts.

Wealthy celery aficionados could always afford to purchase hand-blown, hand-cut vases, but in the mid-1800s glass technology improvements brought celery vases within reach of the less well off. Advances in glass molding allowed factories to mass produce vases with intricate decoration. Consequently, prices dropped and they became must-have objects for the celery chomping crowd.

The choice of a vase instead of a platter was intentional:  if the celery was served with the leaves attached, it had a decorative effect, like a floral centerpiece;  it could be filled with cool water to keep the celery crisp during the meal; and it took up less space on a crowded table.  The annotated image below from an 1859 magazine gives one writer’s opinion about the proper place for celery.  In some households, they probably even had two celery vases to improve the table setting’s symmetry. (That celery is one of the few specifically named items on the table highlights its popularity in those years.)  In the late 19th century, celery service preferences shifted towards flat bowls and production of celery vases decreased.

Method of setting out a table in America - Godey's Magazine v58 1859 - celery annotated
Illustration from Godey’s magazine (1859). Green arrow added by the author.

 

Image Credits
Images from the The Metropolitan Museum of Art, licensed under CC0 1.0, found using CC Search:

“Method of Setting out a Table in America” from Godey’s magazine, volume 58, 1859. Full text from Hathi Trust.

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