Today’s tea tables almost always feature a tiered cake stand that elegantly displays an eye-catching array of mouthwatering sandwiches, scones, and pastries. We perhaps assume that these graceful silver and porcelain stands have always played a part on traditional tea tables. And as we lovingly prepare each tier and garnish the food with flowers and fruits, we may ponder how our great-grandmothers, great-great-aunts, and generations of teatime hostesses before them would have arranged theirs.
But it is, in fact, unlikely that Victorian ladies who served tea before the 1880s used such stands on their tea tables. The cakes and pastries were probably brought to the table in silver baskets or on glass or porcelain platters that stood modestly on a pedestal just above the height of the other dishes. According to researchers in The Goldsmiths’ Company’s library, “Historically, silversmiths would have made ‘cake baskets’ or ‘bread baskets’ for the presentation of scones, muffins, and cakes. In our catalogue, we have sources on silver baskets, but there is nothing for cake stands, nor are cake stands mentioned in dictionaries of silver.”