White Star Line inkwell mustard pot toothpick holder


Spencer Knarr

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Jun 16, 2004
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This piece has been part of my collection for several years now...and I still have no idea what it really is! When I purchased this back in 1997, the seller was adamant that it was a mustard pot. Edward Kamuda (who owns the only other one I have seen) told me that it was an inkwell. I've had people write in to my website saying it's a toothpick holder. Who's right?? I'm hoping someone can shed some light on this one for me!

pict0029_copy1.jpg


I should add that I'm not too sure if the silver top on mine is original to the piece. Mr. Kamuda's pot doesn't have this top and mine isn't even attached - it comes right off. There's some broken cement around the inside rim of the top, but no damage to the pot lip itself. In fact, the paint extends all the way to the edge of the lip and isn't marred or damaged in any way.

Please guys, what the heck is this?
 

Ray Perks

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Aug 21, 2004
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Hiya,
I know of another one of these - the container is stuck to the base and there is no top to it. There is a picture of it on my website here:
http://www.titanicmementos.co.uk,snip
[Moderator's note: Edited link due to width requirements. JDT]
As to what it is - who knows? (Although I have described it as a toothpick holder.)
Cheers
 

Spencer Knarr

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Jun 16, 2004
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Wow, interesting! Yes, my pot is glued to the base as well - the silver top is unattached. Can you tell me a little bit more about yours? Does it have a hard black (almost plastic-like) material glued underneath? Mine has this as does Edward Kamuda's. When I asked him what it was, he said it used to be very rubbery and served to keep the inkstand from sliding around in rough seas. I'm still not sure it's an inkstand though as porcelain is notoriously porous and would become permanently stained very quickly. However, the inside of my pot is very clean with no staining of any kind. A toothpick holder makes sense, but then why the long base?

EDIT: You're website is great! Promise me you won't produce any replicas of this piece. HA!
 

Ray Perks

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Aug 21, 2004
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The item is not mine and it has been a whilst since I handled it - in fact I think it was when I took the picture.
As I recall there was no black plastic / rubbery stuff holding it down and I'm sure I would have noticed. Its a very, very good point you make about the porosity of the ceramic / glaze - I had not considered this so it puts being an inkwell out of the frame.
The other thing we should bear in mind is that the "Wisteria" and other ceramic items were only used at the dining table. One would not expect an inkstand to be present at the dinner table so I am inclined to think it is not an inkwell but another part of the dinner service, possibly a toothpick holder.

I have a souvineer inkstand from the Olympic and this is silverplate with glass wells any other inkwells I have seen have also been silver or cadmium plate.

I also have a quantity of what I believe are stand alone inkwells but these are Stuart Crystal.

Hope this helps

Cheers
PS I doubt very much if I will reproduce this!
 
J

Jeff Kelley

Guest
Hello:

I am not an expert on anything related to this question, but thought I would provide some insight based on general experience.

I was going to ask if the jar was attached to the base, as that would be important. On inkwells, while the well itself is often removable from the base, it is able to be firmly seated in such a way that it does not move around — this would be especially important on one meant for a ship. If your jar was NOT attached, I would say it is definitely not an inkwell. But since it is……?

However — something else comes to mind, most inkwells have definite cradles for the pens; remember — these would likely have been used with dip pens, not fountain pens. There would either be a full length “trough” or at least smaller indents similar to what you see on the edge of an ashtray. The tray on your item does not appear to allow for a pen to be securely placed on/in it. (This situation alone tends to confirm for me that it is not an inkwell).

Glass seems to be a much more common material for either the whole ink container or at least the liner. Porcelain — if fully glazed — would be OK. As for the loose top, a metal top would either be pinned or cemented to porcelain, so your loose top with cement remnants is not unreasonable. I do wonder about how the jar is glued to the base, though — it seems to look like clear glue — did that exist back then???? Are you sure it is not attached by means of a clear glaze that was fired and fused the two pieces together?

In any case, my uneducated opinion is that it is not an inkwell, but a mustard (or other condiment) pot might be a good guess. It would have to have had a spoon or spoons, and then one would wonder why there are no cutouts on the top, as such things could usually have the spoon in place when the top was closed (maybe not the case for the humid ocean trip?). The space on either side of the jar could be for the scooped mustard or the spoons.

A toothpick holder is also a good guess — the plate/base could have been for the used toothpicks. I guess you would have to see if the size is right for a bunch of toothpicks to go inside and be reachable when the top is opened.
 

Spencer Knarr

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"I do wonder about how the jar is glued to the base, though — it seems to look like clear glue — did that exist back then???? Are you sure it is not attached by means of a clear glaze that was fired and fused the two pieces together? "

I'm not sure how it's attached. My guess is a cement of some sort. It does appear as if the seam has been glazed though and I believe that is the "clear glue" you are seeing in the photograph.
 

Ray Perks

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Aug 21, 2004
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Incidentally, I have what is generally known to be a table service toothpick holder in silverplate.
I have include a picture of it - it is on the far right of the picture.
img_0683.jpg

So do this mean that the wisteria item is not a toothpick holder but something else?

Cheers
 

Ray Perks

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Aug 21, 2004
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Spencer - re the clear "glue" - I too wonder how this was done - certainly not superglue and I doubt if any other clear glue that was sufficiently robust enough was around at the time.
I am inclined to believe they were glazed together but for what reason I do not know.
Cheers
 

Spencer Knarr

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Jun 16, 2004
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Ray, your collection looks absolutely amazing. I would be interested in seeing some additional photographs sometime! When compared to the tureen next to it, your toothpick holder appears awfully deep. Those would have to be some unusually long toothpicks.
 

Ray Perks

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Aug 21, 2004
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Hello Spencer,

not a problem. However I do not post too much on here or elsewhere due to security reasons.
Send me an e-mail and I'll dig some pics out for you.
Cheers
 

Ray Perks

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Aug 21, 2004
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Hi Spencer,

it may be just an optical illusion but toothpicks fit very well with about 3/8" sticking out the top.

Cheers
 
Feb 4, 2007
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Perhaps it's a cheese plate? The toothpicks could fit in the center container with little nibbly things all around that one could stick them in. Just an idea.

I am making a guess here, but based on aesthetics, I doubt that the silver top is original to the piece. Also, I would imagine that the "glue" holding the jar part to the plate/tray part is actually glaze as Ray suggested. On quite a few of the plates, cups, etc. from the Wisteria service, one can see small build-ups of glaze in corners and around inner edges that can appear like glue. In fact there can even be tiny bubbles (song time!) that are trapped inside which can really make it appear like glue - but it's not.

Neat piece!
 
S

sashka pozzetti

Guest
I used to have a glass item like this that was a match holder. It didn't have anything to strike the matches. The point was that the tray was for discarding whatever was used from the top part. What is odd to me is how big the tray is for such a small holder. It must have had a lid, or similar as the rebate indicates this.I presume that it must have something to do with food, or dining , as it is part of a service. An ink well would have a liner and pen rests.
 
J

Jeff Kelley

Guest
It’s an interesting and fun exercise to try to figure this out through logic and deductive reasoning.

I am not sure it has been asked/answered already, but what does the top of the jar look like? It should be easy to tell if it was made for a lid or not based on the contour.

So…not an inkwell, I am reasonably confident of that. Jar fused to dish by firing with glaze, so they wanted it to stay put. And, since it was attached, it is reasonable to assume the whole thing was not meant to have any heavy duty washing. So, I am now leaning away from a condiment holder. It would be too awkward to wash it out seeing as how it is all one unit. I am now leaning toward the jar not being meant to hold anything edible.

So…toothpick holder with room for the discarded toothpicks in the tray? Maybe...but it seems they have quite a bit of room for old toothpicks. On a luxury liner they presumably would have better service to clear discarded toothpicks — such a large area for dirty ones would hopefully not have been necessary.

A match holder? Maybe — would make sense with the lid. Once again, though — why the large plate for the discarded matches? I think the space for discarded ones is larger than the space inside the jar for unused ones. Cheese dish — maybe. But then the dish seems too small. Maybe for olives (with toothpicks in the jar)?

It is also quite possible that it is for something that no longer exists or that is not used in the same way. Might be something for the bathroom or vanity, such as a makeup holder (powder, rouge, etc., with room for a brush on the dish).

Maybe a snuff box?
 

Spencer Knarr

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"I am not sure it has been asked/answered already, but what does the top of the jar look like? It should be easy to tell if it was made for a lid or not based on the contour."

Ray's website has a photograph of one sans lid. CLICK HERE

My opinion is that the lip looks like it was designed for a lid. However, I've now seen two of these (Ray's and Edward Kamuda's) that do not have the lid...unless they are the same one which I guess is possible. It's probably been over 10 years since I saw the one at the THS museum.
 
J

Jeff Kelley

Guest
Thanks for the link. Based on the shape, I might almost consider a claim that it might have been made without a lid originally, EXCEPT for the following:

1) the pattern gets sort of messy near the top. If the full top portion were meant to be seen, I would think the pattern would be more even and go a bit more to the top.

AND….the big reason (in my mind)…

2) there is no gold stripe around the rim of the jar. There is gold around the top edge of the plate. If the jar were made without a lid, there would absolutely be a gold stripe around the top edge.

The lid pictured does not appear to be sterling — if it is then maybe some markings could indicate a maker and maybe records could be found on what they made (or if the firm were still in existence maybe they would recognize it).

Some other random guesses — sugar cube container. Cubes were the way of the world until a few decades ago. The plate could have been for the tongs used to get the cubes out. Would have to be an individual serving piece, though, as it does not look big enough to serve a table.

Or, maybe a tea holder? Loose tea in the jar and space for the metal tea ball (whatever they are called) once it is removed from the cup or small pot.

…..just some stray brainstorming.
 

Spencer Knarr

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Jun 16, 2004
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Some other random guesses — sugar cube container. Cubes were the way of the world until a few decades ago. The plate could have been for the tongs used to get the cubes out. Would have to be an individual serving piece, though, as it does not look big enough to serve a table.
I thought this too, but the pot just isn't big enough. You might be able to fit only 4 or 5 cubes inside comfortably. There is very little space inside. The photograph is very close to life size. The tray is only about 7 to 7.5 inches long.

As for the lid, it is plated in silver but there are no markings that I can make out. If there are any they are hidden underneath the cement on the inside of the rim.
 

Spencer Knarr

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Jun 16, 2004
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While looking at the photograph on Ray's site I noticed that the pot isn't centered exactly on the plate, but rather sits slightly to the left. Mine is the same way. I wonder if this is a manufacturing flaw, or if this is deliberate to the design??
 
Feb 4, 2007
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'Tis a puzzlement. Is the lid still attached to the jar with cement or is it just resting on it now? Is there any threading either on the jar or in the lid? Upon reflection, I think I might agree with Jeff about the pattern at the top and there needing to be a gold painted rim. Perhaps it has worn away? I doubt that the lid would have been attached with actual firing glaze because fusing metal and ceramic this way is just difficult and impractical. I would imagine that if there are no marks whatsoever on the silver top (assuming that if there had been, they were not rubbed away) then I would venture to guess that the lid part is EPNS or electro-plated, nickel silver. Sterling silver made in the UK at that time would have been required to have a mark indicating it as such. I wish there was a clear photograph of it, in use, in situ.

Of course, it could be a dim-sum plate, with the soy or plum sauce in the center and the little dipping bits around the plate; or maybe a toothbrush holder - the toothbrush goes in the pot and one's dentures can rest on the side (Just kidding) :)
 
J

Jeff Kelley

Guest
I mentioned this item to a friend of mine this weekend and her first reaction was that it may have been something on a vanity — i.e. a makeup/powder/rouge holder, with the dish being for cotton balls.

Then, she suggested something else that I found even more intriguing: a pipe holder. Imagine someone going into the smoking salon or lounge and ordering up some pipe tobacco. The tobacco could be placed in the jar (the cover is reasonable as tobacco is meant to be kept at constant humidity). The pipe could be rested in the dish, and any old ash that needed to be cleared out of the pipe could also be pout on one side. The unstructured design of the dish (no cradles for pens, for example) would not be an issue if it were a pipe holder — a pipe would need an open, somewhat undefined place to rest as they were all a bit different in shape and size.

My friend suggested that maybe she would show a picture of this item to her 95 year old grandmother. Sounds like a good idea — this item was probably ubiquitous in an earlier era and either the item it was used with or at least the format of the item used back then no longer exists today.
 

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