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Glass Salt Cellar

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Artifact Description

The excavation produced a singular opalesent pale blue pressed glass salt cellar whose style was in circulation between c. 1835 and 1860.  The piece is attributed to the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, where identical fragments have been unearthed from the site of the former glass factory. Also called a ‘salt’ by the Sandwich glass works, this is one of the earliest examples of salt cellars pressed by the company, the original mold pattern having been designed in the 1820s. Its heavy horizontal ribs and curved rim follow the forms of blown molded salt cellars and sugar bowls of that period. Its early use is highlighted by the ten dozen ‘Bee Hive’ salts shipped to New Orleans, in 1827. However, whether they were pressed or blown molded is not indicated.

Salt making is believed to have been the first industry established in America. As early as 1620, the colonists at Jamestown, Virginia, established salt works at Cape Charles and in 1633 began to send salt to the Massachusetts Puritans.  Fifty years later, salt was made in South Carolina in 1689. Early American settlers, however, imported most of their salt. Yet, the British blockade during the Revolutionary War, made the receipt of imported salt virtually impossible and unaffordable due to high tariffs. As a result, the American market so long dependant on foreign manufacturers, was suddenly thrown on its own resources.

In the late 18th century, commercial salt works were established in seaside communities along the Atlantic coast, where salt was also needed for curing fish. The leading manufactories were in Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maine. Saltwater was transferred from vat to vat and then allowed to evaporate in the sun. The process however, was not only labor intensive, but production was limited; only one bushel of salt could be derived from 350 gallons of water. After hauling by hand, followed by the use of hand pumps, windmills proved successful. By the late 1830s, coastal towns such as Cape Cod, Massachusetts, were supporting a thriving salt industry. The town of Dennis on the north shore boosted 114 salt works in 1837. Even Deming Jarves, founder of Sandwich’s glass company, also on Cape Cod, didn’t miss the opportunity to benefit from the budding salt industry, and in 1838, outlined a plan to build a salt-making facility on the grounds of the Sandwich factory. According to his proposal, waste heat from a steam engine would evaporate the saltwater. The operation relied on iron pipes to convey the heat beneath trays filled with salt water and reportedly produced ten bushels of salt per day, which at the time brought $6 to $8 per bushel.  There is apparently no further information on Deming’s salt works.

Further inland the Kentucky salt springs were known and used before 1790. The first salt manufacture began in Ohio in 1798 and in Pennsylvania in 1812. The more important sources were found in New York, West Virginia, and Ohio with New York ultimately generating more than half of the entire domestic supply. New York’s leading salt works were in Syracuse where the Onondaga Salt Springs was a major source of salt production. While the salt (brine) springs around the southern end of Lake Onondaga (as it is known today) were reported by Jesuit missionaries as early as the mid-17th century, both Indians and European traders were producing salt by the boiling process by the mid-18th century. The systematic production of salt began in 1797 when the state legislature designated a one-mile wide strip of land around the southern half of the lake as the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation. Laws regulating the method of production (boiling or solar evaporation), as well the storage and sale of salt were implemented as was a collection duty for every bushel of salt produced from the Reservation. The rapid development of the salt industry in the 18th and 19th century led to the nicknaming of Syracuse as ‘The Salt City.' From 1797 through 1917 the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation produced more than 11.5 million tons of finished salt. 

The expansion of the United States into areas that had natural salt brines and rock salt mines resulted in the decline of coastal salt evaporating facilities. Yet, whether derived from land or sea, the coarsely milled salt frequently absorbed moisture and had a tendency to lump, and as a result, salt was placed on the table in an open container. Although the glass container held only a limited supply of salt, the term cellar was in common use at the time, meaning a place of storage. The popular use of such glassware was supported in large part by a population that consumed an enormous amount of salt, which was delivered to the table in an open salt cellar throughout the 19th century.





Other Details

H. 19.8cm