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History of the Salver & Tray

What is a Tray

The word tray is derived from the Middle English word ‘treg’ or ‘trig’ meaning ‘flat board with low rim’.


Essentially a tray is a flat, shallow container made of wood, metal or a combination of the two, used for carrying or displaying food or drink related items.


History of Trays & Salvers


The earliest example of a tray that we are able to verify the age of is an Etruscan black earthenware tray, said to date from the 7th or 6th century B.C.E. (Pre-Roman times). There is no certainty the Etruscan tray is the oldest in existence, but it does suggest that the concept of a tray is an ancient one, existing millennia before they became commonplace in aristocratic and wealthy homes.


The serving tray as we know it today is an evolution of the salver, which was a term used in England from the mid-seventeenth century to denote a flat tray, usually made of silver. The word derives from the Latin ‘salvare,’ meaning ‘to save’.


silver salver

Originally, the use of a salver indicated that the food or drink served upon it was intended for royalty, because it was required that a servant must test everything for poison before it reached the king’s table. The salver was used to indicate that this process had taken place and that the food or drink was now fit for a king.


antique silver salver

Salvers are essentially trays without handles, with some salver designs also incorporating feet. English, Irish and Scottish silver salvers date back to the early seventeenth century. Samuel Pepys (1633 - 1703) is recorded as an owner of a salver, signifying his high social standing.


silver waiters

During the eighteenth century, the popular style of the tray was a plain oval shape, featuring reeded moulding and loop handles. By the nineteenth century, carrying handles were being added to large-sized salvers, to accommodate the increasingly weighty tea and coffee services which were preferred by the members of society with higher social standing.


paul de lamerie salvers

In the early nineteenth century, long, oblong trays became fashionable. Gallery trays -named for their lip or ridge, which was called a ‘gallery’ - were trays made in either wood or metal, with higher sides than the traditional tray. This provides more security, preventing items being carried from slipping, or tipping off the surface of the tray. Victorian trays were heavily ornamented, to adhere to the style of many pieces of silverware and homeware at this time.


dressing table tray
silver tray

Types of Trays


Decoration can vary from heavy, detailed baroque styling to subtle, modern, art deco shapes and styles. At AC Silver, we have a wide variety of types and styles of tray to suit every need and home. Whether you’re looking for a grand piece for ornamentation, a large, practical piece to use as part of dining service, or a specially decorated piece to use every day, we have a tea tray, a drinks tray, or a snuffer tray to suit you. As well as silver trays, we also have meat platters, salvers and waiters, tazzas, bread dishes, all contained within the tray category. These all have specific small differences and histories, however they can all be considered forms of tray.


A Small Selection of Items:


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Andrew Campbell started trading in antiques during the 1970s. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.
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