Trash or Treasure: Value of Victorian dinner wares fluctuates with purpose, material

By Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Faithful watchers of shows such as "Downton Abbey" and other period dramas can attest that even the most formal of today’s dinner tables bear little resemblance to those that well-off family members and guests would have sat at a century ago. DuMouchelles appraiser Joelle Del Rose examined a few pieces of vintage dining ware at a recent appraisal session held at the landmark downtown gallery and auction house and explained the differences between now and then.  

Herb Norgrove brought in a few pieces of vintage dining ware to be appraised, including a sugar bowl, left, pickle castor and candelabra.

Two unfamiliar serving pieces that Herb and Jean Norgrove brought in proved the point.  “They were Jean’s moms,” Herb told Del Rose of the items, which included a pickle castor, what she thought was a sugar bowl complete with a variety of spoons and a single candlestick that had been a gift to her mom.

Jean said that research she had done on the sugar bowl with the dove revealed that doves were a common Victorian motif. “Each spoon belonged to a sister,” she explained to the appraiser. “Each has their birth date and name engraved on the front of the spoon.” The pickle castor was something she remembered the family always having, but it was something Jean’s mom acquired at an auction, not a family heirloom. The appraiser said that pickle castors date to the late 19th century and were made up of a removable glass jar in a metal frame.

The only piece that might look familiar to today’s diners was the candlestick, more technically a candelabra.  It was adjustable, something that you could make taller or shorter, the appraiser pointed out. She identified it as in the Georgian style, and dating to the 20th century. The bottom is marked “weighted silver,” which Del Rose explained is not solid silver, but silver that has plaster of Paris for added weight and stability.

Solid sterling is worth more as are pairs, she added, estimating the candelabra value at $100 to $175. “It would be different if this was marked Paul Revere, but right now it’s really just worth the silver metal value based on the market.”

She said the pickle castor and other piece, which she said could also have been used for ice, would bring $75 to $125 each. “Some of the most valuable early glassware were pickle castors,” she added.

Not surprisingly, she also said that sterling brings more at auction than silver plate. “Silver can be hard to date because they’ve been making it for a long time,” she added.

The pieces are still functional, even if those functions have gone out of style, Del Rose added. “They are very pretty and still look impressive during the holidays or when you are having a formal dinner party.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Letters are edited for style and clarity. Photos cannot be returned.   

About this item

Item: Victorian dinner items

Owned by: Herb and Jean Norgrove

Appraised by: Joelle Del Rose, DuMouchelles

Estimated value: $75 to $175 each