Sentimental Sunday: Roberts Family Pickle Castor

Likely George Roberts family’s pickle castor.

ROBERTS Family (Click for Family Tree)

So just what IS a pickle castor??

It is a fancy jar for pickles, from back in the day when it was important to set a beautiful table.

Details from (likely) George Roberts family’s pickle castor.

Pickle castors were made of silver or silver-plate, with glass jars about 7″ high to hold pickle spears. The metal frame had a handle for carrying, with a hook for the tongs to use to get a pickle out in a delicate manner. The base was often elaborately decorated, as was the handle and even the tongs of some sets.

Tongs from (likely) George Roberts family’s pickle castor.
Tongs from (likely) George Roberts family’s pickle castor.

The glass jars were most commonly molded in cut glass designs, but more expensive versions used real cut glass. (Many sold today as ‘antiques’ have reproduction jars in them, since that part was often lost to breakage.)

Glass jar from (likely) George Roberts family’s pickle castor.

The Kovel’s Antiques webpage states that, “Castor jars became more ornate each year, and by 1860, they were cathedral-like pieces.” (The handle on this jar definitely is ‘cathedral-like.’) Pickle castors were still popular in 1890, but had gone out of fashion by about 1900.

I believe this pickle castor belonged to the family of George Anthony Roberts and Ella Viola (Daniels) Roberts of Jasper County, Iowa. It was found in the house of their daughter, Edith (Roberts) [McMurray] Luck. If memory serves, it used to be in the old homeplace that Edith’s brother George Anthony Roberts, Jr. lived in while he farmed the land after their parents retired and moved into town. George and Ella married in 1885 in Jasper County, so this could have been a wedding gift. Rural areas change slower in their fashions than in the big cities, so it likely was still popular to have a pickle castor on the table into the early 1900s. There are some dim memories of such pretties in an upper cabinet in that house or another house that Georgie (Jr.) may have lived in. And we know that the Roberts women made fantastic pickles, so it might have been used frequently!

Another possibility is that this belonged to George Sr.’s parents, John Roberts and Elizabeth Ann Murrell Roberts, who married in 1857, when pickle castors were at the height of their popularity. If this is true, and they received it as a wedding gift, it would have travelled by covered wagon from Roseville, Illinois to Jasper County in 1868! They probably wrapped it in cloth scraps that would later be used for mending or quilts, then packed it among clothes and blankets in a box stashed inside the wagon. Elizabeth would have probably feared it would be broken when they arrived, but making the trip intact would have been cause for joy after leaving so many possessions behind.

Of course, this is all conjecture, and Edith may have bought it at an estate sale, where she loved to shop. She would not have gone to the sales for her own home until the mid-1920s, though. Additionally, she was not a woman who enjoyed fancy things, so this does not seem to be the origin of this pickle castor.

The design of this is most likely Aesthetic Victorian- seems a bit flowery to be Eastlake, but expert opinions are welcome.

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Kovel’s website–


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