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Sardine Boxes

The sardine fishing and processing industry thrived in Cornwall from 1750 through the late 1880s. Sardines were a popular novelty item during Victorian times, often served with a soup course. Isabella Beeton’s essential book of household management also describes sardines as a compliment to a family tea. Sardines kept poorly but could be preserved through the new canning industry. Serving sardines from a can would have been considered a breach of etiquette. A fashionable majolica sardine box would draw attention to the fact that this Victorian delicacy was present at the table.

Majolica sardine boxes are usually rectangular in shape and commonly have an underplate which may be either separate or integral to the dish. Almost all examples have marine themes as their inspiration. The cover of the dish is often decorated with fish, shells or waterfowl which are arranged so as to form the finial. A multitude of designs are known and can be attributed to the major English, American and Continental manufacturers.

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