Beverley Byer has been writing professionally for a number of years. Her work has been published in magazines and newspapers.
What Is a Cruet?
A cruet is any small container with a flat-bottom, narrow neck, spout, handle, and stopper. It is used to hold liquid condiments, such as olive oil and vinegar. The name is believed to have derived from the Old French word crue, which means earthen pot. Others say it is from the Dutch word kruicke, which was often spelled crewet.
Some people call the vessel a "caster" because centuries ago, in the 17th century to be exact, such receptacles were used to hold sugar, salt, and pepper. Diners would cast or shake them over food.
Early Cruet Styles
- Early cruets were simple and made of gold or silver.
- Before they reached the dining table, they held oils, water, and wine for religious rituals. Scholars point to the Biblical verse 17:16 in the Book of I Kings from the King James Version as evidence.
- In later centuries, cruets used by the Christian church came in pairs and were marked “V” for the Latin vinum (wine) and “A” for the Latin aqua (water). Stoppers were often shaped like crosses.
17th Century Cruet Styles
Cruets were introduced to the dining table late in the 17th century.
- They quickly spread throughout Europe, especially France and Italy, where the use of liquid condiments was prevalent.
- Cruet bottles were made of cut fluted glass and fancier styles.
- Stoppers were glass, silver, or silver-plated.
- In the glass condiments, flavors were left intact, and no one could see what was inside.
- On the table, cruets were combined with casters for other spices, such as salt, pepper, and mustard.
18th Century Cruet Styles
In the 18th century, cut-glass products like cruets became quite popular.
- Bottles were of various shapes and sizes.
- The article Cruets by Patte and Peter Tomlinson stated that cruets were blown or molded into cylindrical shapes, pear shapes, or mallets and had tapering necks. Intricate patterns were etched into the glass of both the vessel and stopper.
- One silver set with two cruets and three casters was believed to have been used by the Earl of Warwick, England, in 1715. Soon after, sets with that number of vessels were called Warwick cruets.
- Elegant, intricately designed stands or frames were invented in 1720. They had control handles for carrying and feet for standing on the dining table or sideboard. Accompanying cruets were narrower and void of handles so they could sit better.
- The size of a set depended on the number of cruets and casters for which it was made.
- A typical cruet set had a combination of five to seven containers.
19th Century Cruet Styles (Victorian Era)
This century saw quite an explosion in styles of cruet and cruet sets.
- In 1803, silver cruet sets were created with a four-ogee footed frame holding seven cut-glass bottles with silver stoppers.
- Other stands had scrolled feet and friezes to match the floral patterns on the cruet bottles.
- An extremely popular style was the boat-shaped stand with handles.
- Cruets and cruet sets reached across the pond to the United States in the 19th century. Pressed glass—molten glass which was hand or machine pressed into a plain or patterned mold—made them more affordable. So, they were abundantly produced for the middle-class market.
- Americans also sought patents for silver plating. One such individual was John O. Mead, who studied the technique in England. His patent was issued in February 1859. He partnered with others in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania to design and create silver-plated cruet stands.
- Silver-plated stands (with glass cruets) were also made by the Wilcox Silver Plate Company in Meriden, Connecticut.
- Other manufacturers used Gothic and Renaissance retro styles in their stand designs.
- Also common was a rotary caster with a pedestal or four-foot base with a large handle in the middle. It held six bottles.
- Some cruet bottles now had labels that were either engraved or painted on the surface to identify their contents.
- Later, chained plaques called bottle tickets were placed around the bottles’ necks for a similar purpose. Some of the tickets were left blank so users could enter the names themselves. This style of bottle sat tall, sometimes as high as 14 inches, in circular stands.
- The entire set was “heavy and awkward to lift, so [it] was left on a credenza in the parlor,” according to Information on Antique Cruets on eHow.
- Double cruets or double bottles for oil and vinegar were also created in the 19th century. Called Gemel for the zodiac sign Gemini (the twins), the bottles were fused together in the middle with their lips pointing in opposite directions to avoid spillage when pouring.
- Some manufacturers created the Triple Bottle or Multiple Bottle- fusing three bottles together.
- After 1865, colored glass, especially red and cobalt joined the materials used to make cruets.
- According to the above article, glass companies were also creating product lines, including cruets, named after famous people.
- The Fostoria Glass Company made cut fluted cruet bottles for oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper shakers on a mesh Sheffield plate caddy, which they called the “Dolly Madison” cruet set.
- By the 1880s, the Taunton, MA Reed & Barton had more than 150 styles of cruet and cruet sets, including colored crystal bottles.
- Some bottles were designed elaborately with call bells or floral arrangements.
20th Century Cruet Styles
American inventor William Beach Finn was issued a patent in February 1903 for a colonial-style cruet. It was promoted in the May 28, 1903, issue of the magazine Crockery and Glass Journal. Other new styles and patterns made of various metals continue to be introduced. However, by the 1920s, the use of cruets as part of the dining service began to wane.
21st Century Cruet Styles
Today, cruets and cruet sets are still not as popular as in prior centuries, but you can find a myriad of materials and styles to fit any budget and for any occasion. Crate & Barrel, for instance, sells an Ettore Sottsass Oil and Vinegar set for $130 as well as a rustic glass and wood cruet set from Thailand for $30.
You have the choice of wood, glass, ceramic or plastic bottles with wood, glass, ceramic, plastic, or cork stoppers. There are simple, plain, and vintage styles or more modern ones with built-in filters to strain your vinegars and other liquid condiments from the herbs and spices (garlic and thyme) they contain. You can find any cruet or cruet set online and as well as in brick-and-mortar stores.