I think almost everyone that had a Grandmother or visited an antique store has seen one of these covered glass footed boxes. Most people think they are covered candy dishes but while they most often are used as candy dishes their original purpose was quite different.
It started in the Victorian era. Part of the excess that we accept as the “Victorian era at it’s best” was the need to have a dish or utensil for every possible type of food served. Victorians delighted in the unusual. For goodness sake, they had strawberry forks, asparagus tongs and bullion cups. They had elaborate pickle casters, ornate cruet sets as well as many many other unusual serving pieces but these ‘candy dishes’ were designed as something quite different.
For most Victorians wedding cakes were most often fruit cake and as anyone should know traditional fruit cake keeps forever, almost. The custom of keeping part of the wedding cake to enjoy on your one year anniversary gave the Victorians the go ahead to design something to hold that one special piece of cake for storage.
Each bride’s box is a little different but they are distinctly defined by the tapered knob on the top, a domed square lid with decreasing square ridges decorating the top and crenelated edges decorating the sides. When trying to lift the lid with the tapered knob, it is rather difficult because it is difficult to hang onto the lid. Usually used as a candy dish today, I imagine the lid slipping out of a child’s hand and clanging back down onto the box would alert someone that the candy is being raided.
The tapered knob on the lid was meant to fit into the base when turned upside down and in fact make the box act as a footed pedestal type of cake plate. When the wedding cake was stored in the box the bride could easily turn the cake out onto the lid, baste it with a little brandy or rum every so often during the year then later at their anniversary, use the dish as a serving piece.
These charming dishes come in several different sizes but the most common are a six inch high and three inch across, an eight inch high and four inch across or 10 inches high and five inches across. Many were made in white milk glass or clear glass. Some were even made in colored milk glass. In my photos I have a clear glass 6’h and a pink milk glass 8″h. I love the soft baby pink of pink milk glass. While perusing our local antique shop I found another 8″ milk glass with hand painted leaf and ivy accents.
These beautifully shaped boxes almost look like a wedding cake with artfully crenelated sides and ornate footing. I doubt that any of these lovely candy dishes are used today to keep wedding cake but it is an interesting history for these dishes.