“Serving Fish and Oysters in the Gilded Age” spotlights a table exhibit displaying special items on loan from Alice Nathan, Tjasa Sprague and Cornelia Brooke Gilder, friends of Ventfort Hall Mansion and Gilded Age Museum. The exhibit, featuring a full range of seafood antiques for the table, is on display in the dining room of the mansion.
Oysters alone were a highly popular seafood frequently served during the Gilded Age, a fact proven by a bill sent to Ventfort Hall owner George Morgan listing forty-two shuckings over three months in 1896. Fish and shellfish of all kinds were plentiful during the Gilded Age and it’s only natural to tie the exhibit to Ventfort Hall.
On display among other items are large oval platters with matching plates each hand painted with a true-to-life scene of fish depicted at the bottom of the deep blue sea amongst flowing foliage. Then there are majolica oyster plates with circles of cavities, just the size and shape to hold single oysters on the half shell.
For serving fish, there are elaborately engraved large silver forks and knives with ivory handles, others with silver handles, each pair stored in leather and satin padded presentation boxes. Other pieces on display are a majolica sardine box covered with an en relief basket weave design, the lid of which is topped by a sardine for the handle; an extraordinary silver oyster tray with a lacy filigree border, and pairs of matching silver forks and knives with imitation ivory handles made of an early form of Bakelite. These are just some of the special items on display at Ventfort Hall for visitors to enjoy.
The antiques are19th-century tableware that were produced in England, Germany and other countries exclusively for the fish course, possibly for a multi-course formal dinner, to be removed from the table once the course was over. Next would come a whole new set of tableware planned especially for a course of beef, lamb or pork. Salads, elaborate desserts and fruit would complete the meal. An array of appropriate wines accompanied each course. It was truly the Gilded Age!
Exhibit is included in general house admission for self-guided tours of $18.00, $17.00 for 65+. Visiting hours are Thursday – Tuesday, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm. Closed on Wednesdays. Masks, while in attendance, are required. For information or reservations call us at 413-637-3206.