The Three-Tier Cake Stand

The Three-Tier Cake Stand
During the Edwardian era (1901 to 1910), even a less formal tea in the garden would have included a three-tier cake stand and a maid to serve tea, such as this photograph taken circa 1905. (Photo by G.T. Jones & Son/Sean Sexton/Getty Images)

According to catalogues and silver specialists, the earliest plated-silver cake stands were manufactured in the 1880s and ’90s, and by the time tea reached its Edwardian heyday, they were widely available for use both in the home and in hotel lounges. The London department store Jas. Shoolbred & Co. Ltd., in its 1912 to 1914 catalogue, offered “Brass Cake Stands (These can also be supplied in Copper or Silver Oxidized).” Customers could choose between the “Polished Brass, 2ft 6in. high 14/-” and “Polished Brass, plates extra, 2ft 8in. high 21/-.”

These rather tall stands were presumably intended for use on sideboards and buffet tables at tea receptions catering to a large number of guests. Smaller stands, designed for use on the tea table itself, stood only 14, 15, or 16 inches tall, and antiques dealers offer these today as “Victorian silver plated three-tier cake stand in a frame with removable oval pierced-edged plates made in ca 1890. Height 15.75 inches, width 28 inches, depth 7 inches” and “Antique Edwardian silver plated three-tier cake stand, having a graduated suite of three removable octagonal plates with applied leaf borders, sitting within a very pretty tapering frame with scroll-work handle and feet, made in Sheffield in ca 1910.” Hostesses who wished to coordinate their cake display with the chosen tea set could, of course, replace the silver trays with matching porcelain cake plates. 

Through the first 30 years or so of the 20th century, cake stands came into their own, and books on etiquette began to advise their use on the tea table. Mrs. Massey Lyon wrote in her 1927 publication, Etiquette: “In towns, the tea tray is put upon a small table, brought out from the side of the room for the purpose, and covered with a lace-trimmed or embroidered cloth, and cakes, etc., are disposed on the table if large enough, on a tiered cake stand, or whatever convenience suggests. Where a hostess is usually ‘on her own’ for tea [i.e., without her maid], one of the tiny tiered stands which take their place upon the table prove most convenient and they enable her to pass three or four things at once to her guests.” In 1905, Goldsmiths’ and Silversmiths’ Company, London, offered just such a miniature stand of “circular tiers with leaf capped supports and a bud finial, height 15.5 cm 6 inches, weight 3 oz.”

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