The Three-Tier Cake Stand

The Three-Tier Cake Stand
Brass cake stand from a catalogue published by Jas. Shoolbred & Co., circa 1915. (© The Geffrye, Museum of the Home)

However, Georgian and Victorian diners would have been very familiar with silver, pressed glass, crystal, or porcelain single-tier cake stands, known originally as salvers and used to display wedding cakes and fancy desserts. These sat on either a solid base approximately
6 inches high or a pedestal that created a theatrical effect and showed the cake off to its best advantage. Some of the grander, solid-silver salvers had a mechanism that allowed them to revolve slowly, while others contained fun novelty features such as musical boxes! 

Victorian dinner tables often also held quite elaborate centerpieces called “epergnes,” which included branches of various sizes positioned at different heights and designed to hold salt and pepper dishes and trays of sweetmeats or fruit. And in most drawing rooms of that period, a folding mahogany or oak cake stand 2 or 3 feet tall would have stood on the floor beside the tea table or trolley. These had hinged trays that dropped down to hold platefuls of toasted muffins and hot buttered crumpets but then folded neatly away once tea was over.

The stands continued to play their part at teatime, both in Britain and North America, and in the 1922 edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette (published in the United States), we read, “… on the tea-table, back of the tray, or on shelves of a separate ‘curate,’ a stand made of three small shelves, each just big enough for one good-sized plate, are always two, usually three, varieties of cake and hot breads.” So, perhaps, as afternoon tea gained favor in the later years of the 19th century, the pedestal cake platters; the decorative, space-saving epergnes; and the floor-standing wooden cake stands gradually merged to create a multitiered stand designed specifically for the display of irresistible cakes and pastries on the tea table.

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