Cruet holder or "magic caster"
Object Place: Dorchester, Massachusetts, United States
55.88 x 22.22 x 22.22 cm (22 x 8 3/4 x 8 3/4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Silver plate, cut glass
The Heide Family Galleries (Gallery 238A)
Marked “PATENTED DEC. 1 1857” in arch at top. Doors revolve open with a twist of the knob, revealing glass cruet bottles in interior compartments.
Table casters, as these sets were known in the mid-nineteenth century, comprised decorative stands holding cut-glass bottles containing condiments such as salt, pepper, sugar, oil, vinegar, and possibly mustard. Most silver-plate manufacturers produced casters, but the Magic Caster was an especially elaborate novelty product that Roswell Gleason and Sons patented in 1857. With a twist of a knob, its six revolving doors opened all at once to reveal six glass bottles inside. This clever device appealed to the love of new “mechanized” technologies and complicated dining accoutrements by upper- and middle-class consumers of the period. An English acquaintance of Gleason, upon showing a Magic Caster to his family, wrote in 1856 that “the Patent Castor in England would be a very saleable article; the extreme neatness and usefulness, combined with its novelty & elegance, would command much attention.” The caster’s decorative ornament included pointed arches in the Gothic Revival mode and such dining-related images as pendant swags of dead game animals and fish much like the carving on a contemporary sideboard by Ignatius Lutz.
Born in rural Vermont, Roswell Gleason was a very successful self-made man. After moving to Dorchester, Massachusetts, in his youth, he became a tin worker in 1822 and a pewterer by 1830. He successfully grew his business, employing more than one hundred workers at a large factory and expanding to encompass britannia (tin alloy) wares. After 1850, when his sons joined the company, the firm produced mainly silver-plated goods. Their 1866 catalogue depicts more than sixty varieties of table casters in various sizes, including two versions of the Magic Caster on the first page, along with hundreds of other types of fancy tablewares.
This text was adapted from Ward, et al., MFA Highlights: American Decorative Arts & Sculpture (Boston, 2006) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Marked "PATENTED DEC. 1 1857" in arch at top. Incised "1620" and marked with Massachusetts State Seal (Gleason & Sons mark 1851-1871)
Marion E. Davis Fund