You are at home or a restaurant and you cut into a roll. Then you notice that there are crumbs on the tablecloth or table and brush them away. Did you know that brushing crumbs away used to be a part of American dining during the Victorian Era? Or that someone would come and do that for you? In our collection we have two silver crumb trays and although our items do not have much history, the history behind this utensil is really interesting.
Originating in Europe for the royalty and the aristocracy, crumb trays were used to collect the crumbs after every meal. Crumb trays did not become widely used in America until the Victorian Era when dining had become structured with rituals. Americans also believed it was important to behave in a genteel manner, which meant to emulate and behave like the aristocracy. Therefore no proper meal would be served without the crumbs being cleared away after every meal.
Hotels started to use crumb trays for two reasons. First to show off their services and the elegance of their dining experience and second to save money. If the wait staff used the crumb trays after every meal then occasionally the tablecloths would not have to be changed and laundered after every use. This meant that the hotel could save some money on services performed by the service industry.
The crumb trays used in hotels would not have been as high quality as the crumb trays found in homes. Crumb trays found in homes were a sign of prominence; it said that this family could afford to purchase one. At home they would have been used not only for meals but also for afternoon tea when sandwiches or other finger foods were eaten.
Many crumb trays had a small brush or knife to swipe the crumbs from the table. In some cases the tray would look like a dust pan. There were several patents filed to improve the design of the crumb tray. Richard B. Lawrence, Margaret M.J. Rooney, Henry Palmer and Louis Wojidkow are just four people who submitted designs. The crumb trays we have in our collection are silver and stand upright with two sides to block the crumbs in. No brush or knife accompanies our set but the edges are flat so the smaller tray might have been used with the larger tray. The large crumb tray is 9 ½ x 5 ½ x ¼ while the small crumb tray is 8 ¼ x 3 ¼ x ¼. These were donated to us by Bill Heyer and little is known of the history behind these objects.
While crumb trays are not widely used anymore, you can still find them in some restaurants or as a collector’s item in someone’s house. You may not see the point in a utensil like this but it served its purpose during its heyday. They were an important part of American society during the Victorian Era and now are a unique item to look back on and remember the past.
Look for more posts in this series about our wonderful collection of Sherman County history.