Many dinner table receptacles and ornate crockery became popular during the Victorian period, with each suiting a particular purpose. A celery vase, as the name suggests, was a decorative container for holding long sticks of celery and tended to be used by the wealthier households at first. As the manufacture of glass became more common in the late 1800s, such table wear increased in popularity throughout all levels of society due to its less expensive cost.
History Wired suggests that Victorians considered celery a status food that required careful growing and handling. Difficult to produce, and with a limited lifespan, it was necessary to keep the celery fresh, especially without refrigeration. A dedicated, upright glass receptacle, such as a decorative tall glass, stood on the dining table to hold the raw sticks of the vegetable in iced water, with the leaves protruding to make a type of floral arrangement at the top of the vase.
Celery has been used as a flavouring for food since ancient times and was regarded as a medicinal plant in the middle ages, treating a whole list of ailments that included toothache, rheumatism and anxiety. According to the Love Celery website, a sweeter variety developed as a raw, crunchy vegetable that gradually became popular served with cheese at the end of a meal. This is still true today, although a long dish or plate is now more likely to hold the celery sticks than the specific patterned glass vases of the past.
The development of innovative glass making and design using a hand-operated machine was first perfected in the USA in the early 1800s. According to the Victoria and Albert Museum, this method of press-moulding patterns on to glass soon spread to Europe and Britain, culminating in stylistic changes to glass wear. The eventual introduction of steam-pressing lowered costs even more while increasing production and items such as celery vases became commonplace in all types of home. Designs included tall, highly decorated petal-shaped vases or those resembling a tulip, and some manufacturers eventually introduced coloured glass.
As dining habits began to change during the later part of the nineteenth century, the more opulent dishes and receptacles became less necessary. Fenland Celery suggests that the vegetable was once grown in the British Fens especially for the Victorian Christmas market as it was highly popular during that period. Farming methods continued to develop, allowing celery to become a more readily available vegetable. The famous Fenland celery is grown in deep trenches with wide rows where the soil is banked up around the vegetable, offering it protection during frosts. Although celery vases themselves may not be used for the original purpose, these decorative containers are still available as a collector’s item in Britain and America.