By Meg Roberts (@megeroberts)
Fancy some Regency-era cheese on toast? By the late eighteenth century, cheese toasters were all the rage among the British upper classes. The six removable trays in this particular toaster from the period could each hold a small slice of toast or bread, topped with cheese. To make the toast, hot water would first be poured into an opening in the stem of the handle until it filled the container underneath the six trays. As the heat quickly permeated the silver plate and copper interior (both excellent heat conductors), it would simultaneously melt the cheese and keep the toast warm.
This cheese toaster was made out of Old Sheffield Plate (a type of silver plate) in Sheffield around 1800. Less than 60 years earlier, Sheffield cutler Thomas Boulsover had accidentally invented silver plate while trying to fix a decorative knife handle made of both copper and silver. When overheated, the two materials fused together and became one metal. Boulsover realised that by ‘plating’ copper with silver and rolling it out into a single fused sheet, a lot less precious silver was needed to make the increasingly fashionable silver items becoming crucial to the genteel eighteenth- and nineteenth-century table and toilette.
The city of Sheffield was already famous for cutlery production and metalwork in England, but the invention of silver plate exploded the affordability, range and popularity of Sheffield-made silver products. The tables of elite and even middling families became adorned with amusingly specific culinary equipment, including egg coddlers, asparagus tongs, biscuit warmers, marrow scoops, egg scissors, and even turtle-shaped tureens for turtle soup!
Image taken by the author in the Millennium Gallery, Museums Sheffield (L1943.428)