VICTORIAN & EDWARDIAN TRAYS
Edwardian trays come in a wide range of designs and materials, from plain wooden utensils for everyday use to decorative, silver-plated examples reserved for special occasions.
For the average Edwardian family, tea time was marked by the appearance of the familiar tray, usually made of plain, polished wood, laden with teapot, cups and saucers, plates and freshly baked cakes.
This ordinary piece of household equipment also did service at luncheon and dinner, when it was used to carry dishes between kitchen and dining room, and at other times it was used in a dozen or more ways - to transport nourishment to an invalid, for instance, or to carry newly polished cutlery to the dining room. It was, in other words, a constantly useful piece.
By contrast, special occasion trays often appeared on Sundays at tea time and always when entertaining guests. Even modest families usually had a silver-plated tray, and in grander households there were probably several trays of different styles and materials.
Trays as we know them today were developed in Europe in the 16th century, but it was not until the 18th century that they became elegant and decorative enough to be seen in the dining room or parlour.
Wood, followed by silver, was the most common material; pewter, brass and copper were rarer.
The typical 18th-century tray was made of mahogany. It was usually rectangular, with handles at each end and a raised latticework gallery or rim. This delicately pierced rim, together with the upward scrolling handles, was the mahogany tray's greatest decorative feature.
Later in the century, oval trays with a low, plain rim became popular. Also made of mahogany, these were inlaid with a symmetrical pattern in rosewood or satinwood. Most were carried by means of small brass handles.
In Victorian times, when tea time became a daily ritual in almost all households, the tray really came into its own and designs and materials proliferated.
Papier mache was by far the most popular material, with painted and inlaid decoration covering virtually the entire surface.
Silver trays, although less common, were also elaborately decorated and engraved.
In general the Edwardians rejected the opulence and ornament of Victorian designs. Wood and silver came back into fashion as the principal materials and 18th-century styles found favour once more.
Wooden trays made in reproduction Georgian styles were a common sight in turn-of-the-century households and papier mache, although still used, bore fairly restrained decoration.
Electroplated silver trays, however, were the popular - and affordable - choice of most people.
Whether austerely plain or richly decorated in any one of a variety of styles and techniques, the tray was found useful in virtually every room in the Edwardian home.
Late Victorian and Edwardian trays are often found for sale. Wooden and silver-plated ones in neo--Georgian style and in good condition will usually have found their way into antiques shops and markets.
Although not exactly cheap, they are good value for money, particularly if you intend to use them at the tea table or, indeed, as an attractive holder for a set of fine glasses and a decanter.
Also, because of the classic nature of their design, they will look good in any setting, will not date and could he sold on, if necessary, without too much loss of value.
CHECK FOR CONDITION
Fairly plain wooden trays in, for example, stained or polished oak are relatively cheap and can often be found in jumble sales, car boot sales and amid bric-a-brac in junk shops.
Do check the condition of the wood before you buy. If it is shabby and dirty this can be rectified, but if the wood is split nothing can be done about it.
It is also unwise to buy a silver-plated tray on which parts of the silver layer have worn away, unless you particularly like the piece and it is very cheap.
There are home treatments with solutions purporting to cover metals with a layer of silver, but these should never be applied to pieces of any worth, which will be seriously devalued by such 'resilvering'.
Moreover, the colour of modern plating differs noticeably from that of old silver plate.
With papier mache, condition is of vital importance. Good pieces are expensive; chipped or cracked pieces or ones with uneven surfaces are virtually worthless, since the material cannot be satisfactorily repaired.
As with all collectibles, buy the best piece you can afford.
• Check that handles are securely fitted.
• Run your hand ever the surface of papier mache trays. Good quality examples will be smooth to the touch; if the decoration is raised it is likely to be of inferior workmanship.
• Check silver trays for hallmarks.