Salt – The Condiment Worth More Than Gold!

By Alastair Meiklejon, Senior Valuer

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I would imagine that most of our readers draw a salary from their jobs, but how would you feel if you were paid in salt, rather than currency?

The Hammersley Salt

Well, the word ‘salary’ actually derives from the Latin word ‘salarium’, relating to the quantity of salt that Roman soldiers would receive in return for their efforts… Whether or not they were actually paid in salt is debatable, but the value of their pay was certainly linked to the value of salt at the time.

The ‘salt cellar’, or correctly termed ‘saler’, came about due to the need for a receptacle to hold the wondrous gift of the sea, and was a huge status symbol in the Middle Ages. In fact, your social standing could be easily recognised as to where you were seated at the table in relation to ‘the master’s salt’ – either above it for the higher ranking of the seated guests, or beneath it for those deemed less important.

In advance of our upcoming webinar, due to be broadcast on location at the impressive premises of The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers on Thursday 1st July 2021, we are honoured to announce that we will be talking about one of the most important salt cellars in the United Kingdom, possibly the world.

Dutch silver standing salt by Adam van Vianen, (Utrecht, 1621), estimated at £600,000-800,000 at Sotheby’s Treasures sale on July 6

The Hammersley Salt is a part of the stunning collection situated at The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers. The piece dates from 1595, and the only word that can be used to sum up its presence is magnificent.

Standing at 20 centimetres high and weighing in at 32 Troy ounces the drum shaped body is detailed with a frieze of classical figures, with engraving detailing the gift from Sir Hugh Hammersley Kt and Alderman of London 1636 it is raised upon a domed and circular spread foot with an additional selection of figures upon the frieze with an ogee border, having a detachable saltwell to the upper section and marked with an ovolo and guilloche border.

It is hard to think that this piece was used for serving salt to the great and the good at the time of Elizabeth I, and what is mesmerising about The Hammersley Salt is that one can see the visible corrosion from the salt being in contact with the silver over the 500 years since it was first used.

The company formed in 1448, and has curated one of the most formidable collections of fine silver in the country, which one of our silver specialist’s Jenny Knott and myself have had the absolute privilege of working with this year. During the webinar, we will be honoured to be joined by Dr David Bartle, archivist of The Haberdashers Company, to discuss the piece, its origins and how it came to be in the possession of The Company.
We look forward to you joining us for a unique event, truly worth its salt.


Posted in Silver.