Mystery Object

Winter 2012-Spring 2013: Asparagus Shells

Asparagus Server. Derby porcelain manufactory, England, about 1770. Porcelain. 3 3/16 x 3 1/4 in. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Catherine H. Collins Collection, AFI194.1998.

Asparagus Server. Derby porcelain manufactory, England, about 1770. Porcelain. 3 3/16 x 3 1/4 in. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Catherine H. Collins Collection, AFI194.1998.

These small, flat receptacles are called asparagus shells. During the 18th century in England, highly decorated ceramic asparagus shells graced the elegant dining tables of the wealthiest individuals, who used them to serve bundles of long asparagus spears.

Usually about three inches long with low, vertical sides, asparagus shells were open at both ends and tapered toward one side. When placed together, a set of asparagus shells formed a circle.

Comments from the gallery

Question: “How would you use an object like this in your life?”
  • “To keep my pens from rolling across my desk.”
  • “To hold Grandpa’s false teeth.”
  • “Cell phone holder on my desk.”
  • “Put them all together to make a launch ramp for my Hot Wheels.”
  • “To separate snacks in a snack dish. A very fancy snack dish!”
  • “As an iPad holder.”
  • “Not in my life, but perhaps it was used as a pedestal for setting wigs on?”
  • “To hold something small like a sewing needle.”
  • “Pie slice separator.”
  • “I would use it for bookends.”
  • “You rest your silverware on it, so you don’t get the tablecloth dirty.”
  • “Nacho cheese scooper.”
  • “I’d give it to my aunt for brownie points!”
  • “To drain a tea bag into the teacup.”
  • “Set my utensils on while cooking or eating so they don’t get dirty.”
  • “Plate for my silver rings.”
  • “I would give it to a mouse, as a room divider.”
  • “Spoon rest while drinking afternoon tea.”
  • “As a shield when pouring tea (loose) into a container.”
  • “I would use it as a mini dressing screen for my dolls.”
  • “To hold tacos. Yum!”
  • “I would use it to scrape the last pieces of corn off my plate. I can never get them.”
  • “To hold tiny food.”
  • “To impress women.”
  • “Gotta be chopstick rests!”
  • “I’d use it to hold silverwear, tea bags, or lemon wedges.”
  • “To put in a frame and use for decoration.”
  • “I would use this object to scoop sugars into tea.”
  • “I would use it as a spoon rest or for cheeses.”
  • “To place your silverwear after using it.”
  • “A tile in the kitchen around the bottom rim of cabinets.”
  • “I would put it behind a glass partition and hang it on the wall.”
  • “To scoop sugar, flour, and corn meal.”
  • “To hold potatoes.”
  • “Knife rest.”
  • “To scoop up pencil sharpenings.”
Question: “What are the first three words that come to mind when you look at this object?”
  • “Tea time – strain – biscuits”
  • “Dutch – windmill – clogs”
  • “Wow – cool – China”
  • “Tea – tapan – garden”
  • “Fancy – expensive – caviar”
  • “Bananas – ketchup – mustard”
  • “My – grandma’s house”
  • “Luxury – elegant – food”
  • “Weird – antique – fragile”
  • “White – purposeful – sturdy”
  • “Asian – elegant – fragile”
  • “Broken – ancient – lazy (too lazy to fix it)”
  • “China – spoon – awkward”
  • “Mini – Barbie – table”
  • “A – broken – plate”

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