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.
- “The Seller of Celery” by John Ingram (British, London 1721 active to 1763), After François Boucher (French, Paris 1703–1770 Paris)
- “Celery vase” by anonymous, blown, pattern-molded glass (1845-1870)
- “Celery vase” by anonymous, pressed glass (1840-1850)
- “Celery vase” by Brooklyn Flint Glass Company (American, Brooklyn, New York, 1824–1868), Possibly cut by Joseph Stouvenel and Company (1851-1857)
- “Celery vase” by United States Pottery Company (1852–1858)
- “Celery vase” by Challinor, Taylor and Company (1866–1891)
- “Celery vase” by Richards and Hartley Flint Glass Co. (1870–1890)
- “Celery vase” by Portland Glass Company (1864–1873)