Vintage finds for the Thanksgiving table

Editorial Staff Furniture & Decorative Arts

It’s hard to believe that Thanksgiving is already upon us. While certain side dishes go in and out of fashion, the turkey and its gravy remain a constant; and with that, its vessel, the gravy boat, is a mainstay of any traditional table setting.

The term “gravy” appears in several medieval French cookbooks referring to the natural cooking juices, or gravé, that flowed from roasting meat. Used to hold sauces not limited to just gravy, a pair of gravy or sauceboats were placed on opposite ends of the tables of French nobility beginning in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Resting on three or four cast feet, the boat-shaped form featured two lips and two handles, however by the mid-18th century it was reduced to a single lip and handle. Ornamentation was mostly limited to the handle, feet, and rim, until the influence of the Rococo style took hold and brought exuberant embellishment to the form.

Looking to the fashionable French nouvelle cuisine for inspiration, the English adopted the vessel in the 18th century and began producing its own versions in silver and porcelain. One such pair of sauceboats—made by the famed Huguenot silversmith Paul de Lamerie in 1737—recently sold at auction for $157,000 (Christie’s New York, 2008).

Today gravy boats—both collectible and decorative—can be found in a wide array of designs, from the clean lines of the neoclassical style to the biomorphism of the 1950s. Regardless of your budget, there is something to suit any taste—and what better time of the year to add one to your table. Happy Thanksgiving!

Clockwise from top left: Silver-shape sauce boat by Worcester, circa 1752-3 (Leo Kaplan Ltd.); Fish gravy boat by Dansk (accentonvintage); Pair of Chinese export porcelain familie rose sauce boats, circa 1765 (Vandekar); Sheffield-plate gravy boat with removable tray by Pairpoint, 1915-1920 (Andrew Spindler Antiques); “American Modern” gravy boat and tray by Russel Wright (Planet Vintage Girl); “Florence” gravy boat with attached tray by Copeland Spode (SOLAS); American coin silver gravy boat by William Forbes for Ball, Black & Co. (Lauren Stanley Silver).

Image: Sauceboat by Paul de Lamerie, London, 1737. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2009.