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Never mind the diamonds, look at the Salt Cellars!

Date sent: 13/2/1919 

Sender: N/A 

Recipient: Miss R Graham, 2, Duncan Street, Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, Cheshire 

Transcription: Dear Romola 

You will notice that there seems to be a great number of salt cellars.  There are about 9 beside the state one.  I am coming back on Monday 

Love Frances 

Postcard message

Kate Romola Constance was John and Fanny Graham’s only surviving child.  A 21- year-old milliner in the 1911 census, her father was Chief Clerk of the General Office, Harbour Master’s Department, Mersey Docks and Harbour Board. She probably worked for her aunt, another Kate, who lived with the family, and had premises at 41, Market Street, Birkenhead. 

Frances and Romola’s interest in salt cellars may seem somewhat niche, but as good Cheshire girls, they were undoubtedly aware of the importance their home county played in providing Britain’s salt. By 1897 Winsford, Cheshire was the largest producer of the condiment in Britain, and only 33 miles down the road from Birkenhead. 

Cheshire’s salt originated from a chain of shallow Triassic salt lakes. The Romans extracted salt from the brine springs, but the local salt mines really took off in the 1670s. By 1919, the glory days were fading, but the county still provides over half the UK’s cooking salt. 

A dispaly of the crown jewels

Why salt cellars in the Regalia? Salt was a precious commodity in medieval times, and generally only served to the top table. Your mealtime seat’s proximity to the condiment, usually accommodated in a highly decorated container on that table was a very visible measure of your social standing. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, furnishing the post coronation banquet table settings, including salt cellars, provided tangible proof of renewed loyalty. 

Unfortunately, Frances’ postcard does not really show them to their best advantage – and is not the best example of the London Stereoscopic Company’s work. Founded in 1854, the company originally produced stereocards – a double set of prints mounted on card to give a three-dimensional image when viewed through a stereoscope.  As the picture postcard craze grew, they had a vast stock of images to exploit. Even if the picture is a bit murky, everything is helpfully labelled, so with the aid of a magnifying glass, the girls could marvel at the State Salt Cellar, and assorted tankards. I wonder if Frances admitted to her friend that she had not enjoyed such a good view in reality? The rather elegant cage shown in the postcard made in Birmingham in the late 1860s, had gained mesh re-enforcement by 1905. Five years later the whole railed case was replaced with a daunting, solid -walled polygonal chamber within the room equipped with a re-enforced viewing window set into each face for visitors to peer through. 

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