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Butter Up the Table

Butter dishes! It’s amazing, but I don’t believe I’ve ever written about these utilitarian dishes as a stand-alone collectible.

But these pretty covered serving dishes are not just useful, they’re attractive and fun. An antique or vintage butter dish adds a touch of class to a dining table too. Everyone should have a few.

I typically use my Fiestaware yellow single stick butter dish but would love to have a Johnson Brothers Old Britain Castles butter dish to go with my formal china.

However, when I’ve found one of these on eBay – it was pricey at $225!

Johnson Brothers is an old firm that got its start in Staffordshire, England, in the era of famous English potters. It became most famous for its transferware. In the contemporary era, it merged with Wedgwood and that’s the era of my dishes.

Butter dishes became common on the table during the Victorian age when dining and serving dishes were formal in most households. Even average families had a butter dish for the table.

Antique butter dishes, unlike today’s version, are round and meant for a mound of butter. Today’s are long and fit the standard stick version of spread.

When butter dishes were becoming popular of course, butter was made by farmers and was a real treat.

It wasn’t readily available in city homes until the 20th century.

Butter dishes were bigger in many cases to have room for irregular slabs or mounds of butter.

Lids were important too, to keep it fresh and to keep flies or fingers off it. In the world of antique serving dishes there were also cheese dishes that look a lot like butter dishes but are bigger.

Pattern glass butter dishes were perhaps the most common version in the 19th century.

The one shown in the column is a classic example.

Pattern glass was the first mass-produced fancy tableware in America, according to Schroeder’s Antiques Price Guide information. Early examples (pre-Civil War) are exceptionally clear and resonant. They had high lead content and it’s also referred to as Flint Glass.

Thousands of examples exist since it was produced in great volume during the Victorian age and in many, many patterns. Visit patternglass.com to learn lots about this extensive field of collecting.

Butter dishes have several companion pieces that collectors often become interested in too.

For example, butter pats. These can often be found at yard and estate sales or antique shops and are mistaken for children’s china. But these tiny little plates were designed to hold butter pats at the table for individual diners.

Sometimes, fancy dinners would have the butter pats stamped with a design or molded into little shapes, like flowers or bunnies. These butter stamps and molds are also collectible of course!

I think having a nicely set table, even in today’s hurry-up world is so important.

It sets an air of daily elegance to eating together with family and friends — or even when dining alone during the pandemic.

So, find your fancy butter dish and enjoy it on the table. If you need one, these treasures are easy to find in many styles and sizes, from clear, cut or colored glass to mid-century looks like Fiestaware, stainless steel or silverplate. Enjoy your butter the right way!

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at zambitomaureen@hotmail,com or by writing in care of the Sunday News-Register, 1500 Main St., Wheeling, WV 26003.

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