Viking ship salt cellars

Background information and research questions

I began collecting Viking ship style salt cellars in late 2005.  In trying to find out how many different designs were made, so I could have as complete a collection as possible, I discovered I had a lot more questions than answers!

I have not yet found a definitive answer to exactly how many different styles (and variations) exist - my best guess is somewhere between 50 and 100.

The internet is a wonderful source of information, but it is far from a perfect research tool.  Finding no websites about viking ship salt cellars, I searched for information in various places, including online auction sites such as eBay.  This gave me a wealth of information, but I had to figure out which information was correct, and which was incorrect - not always an easy task!  Continuing research has led to some answers, and many more questions.

Since many of my pieces were acquired on eBay, I could not be certain that accessories included (spoons, liners) were what was 'supposed' to go with a certain ship.  Spoons also get lost, glass liners broken, so a ship may have neither, when it is 'supposed' to come with one or both.  I have tried to confirm ship/accessory information, by comparing makers marks, looking for multiple ships with the same accessories, help from other collectors, and any other ways possible.

As an example, early in my searching, I found two salt cellars on eBay of the exact same style (of that I was certain, H&J #4260) that had different clear glass liners.  One liner had a 'sunburst' type design in the bottom, the other did not.  The H&J ship is noted as being "Sterling 830" (although no scan of the marks is shown).  The eBay ship with the sunburst liner was marked "ALPACA".  According to the seller, the other eBay ship was marked with what looked to be "830S", and to the right of that what looked like 2 stamped (P) each in a beehive ? housing.  Were they made by different manufacturers, and thus the different liners?  If so, why are the ship designs identical?  Perhaps the same manufacturer, making the same design out of two different materials, with different liners?  Or was one liner not the original for that ship?  As you can see, more questions than answers - but someday I will have the answers, too!

Other questions I've tried to answer include:

  • How many different companies made viking ship style salts?
  • How (and why) did their designs change over time (between and within companies)?
  • How many different spoon designs and variations are there?
  • How many different materials were the ships made out of?  So far I have identified pewter, silver (various grades, plated, and 'alpaca'), silver with enamel, plique à jour, celluloid (a type of plastic), and wood.
  • Did all the silver ones come with glass liners?
  • How many different glass liner colors and designs are there?  (I've seen clear, cobalt blue, and green glass; rounded, flat, beveled and scalloped edges; flat and v-shaped bottoms; and one with a design in the bottom)
  • How many came with 'viking horn' or other style pepper containers?
  • What do all the makers and other marks on the ships mean?
  • Why do some dragon head or shield designs seem to be similar, even though the makers marks differ?
One thing I have discovered is that some ship styles were made in both sterling, and a cheaper version out of silverplate or alpaca-type silver.  I don't know yet if these were done by the same company, or another company.

I decided to put up this website for a few reasons.  One is to share my collection with other open salt collectors and/or viking ship salt collectors.  Another reason is to share the information I've been able to gather from various sources.  And finally, in the hopes that someone might be able to help me answer some of the questions I still have.

For the moment, I am concentrating on the pewter and silver viking ships.  I am not yet interested in collecting the plastic (celluloid), enamel-covered, or wood ships.  I have acquired one plique à jour ship, although their generally high prices will probably limit my personal collection of those!  As time goes on, I expect to have categories for all these types, even if I am not yet collecting them.

I am also going to leave companion pieces, such as pepper shakers, until later.

Another question I've come up against is which of these are actually salt cellars?  First - although because of their shape, they are useable as such, some of them may have simply been made as toys or knicknacks.  Second - some designs begin to get quite large, and at some point cannot be considered salts, even master salts.  Third - some are salt cellar styles, but appear to be made as souvenir items (possibly on cruise ships, etc...), with different scenes in the bottom of the salt, which would be covered up if it were to be actually used as a salt cellar (a parallel to this is souvenir spoons, which are intended for display, not actual use).

I am not going to attempt to list values at this point.  H&J has associated Rarity and Price Guides, but in my opinion much of that information is outdated and unreliable.  Besides, they only list 16 viking ship salts, and they have incomplete information on several of those.

This website will grow as I am able to add to it.  Fancy stuff like backgrounds, 'pretty' fonts and improved layout will come later - I'd rather get the info up first.  Some measurements may be skipped to save time, and will be added later.  If you catch a typo, see incorrect information, or can add some info I'm missing, please feel free to email me (please ask before sending pictures).

Thank you for visiting!

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