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What is a Salver?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A salver is a type of serving tray, classically made from silver, although other metals may be used as well. The defining point of a salver is that it lacks handles, differentiating it from other types of trays. Some salvers have feet, but usually they are simply basic flat trays. Many home and restaurant supply stores carry salvers, in an assortment of shapes, sizes, and designs, and many companies make salvers which are designed to coordinate with existing serving ware, such as tea sets.

The origins of the word “salver” are quite interesting. The word first appeared in English in the 1600s, and it it appears to have been borrowed from the Spanish salvar, which means “to save” or “to taste food for traces of poison.” In royal and high-profile households, it was traditional for a small sample of food to be brought out on a salver for tasting before being offered to the diners, to ensure that the food was not tainted. The tradition of food tasting was once widespread across many regions of the world, reflecting the paranoia which many high-ranking individuals lived with.

The basic form of the salver has been around for centuries, with such trays being among the oldest of all metal objects created by humans. A salver may be plain, or decorated with various chased, beaten, or etched designs, and many have lips, to prevent objects from sliding off the salver as it is moved. An especially small salver is known as a waiter, and some salvers come with a matching waiter for coordinated service.

Both food and drinks can be brought out and served on salvers. In households with very fine salvers, these serving trays are often left prominently on display during buffets and meals, so that guests can admire the ornamentation on the salvers, while plainer trays may be used to shuttle food back and forth between the kitchen and other locations.

Like other silver objects, a salver needs to be kept regularly polished to avoid corrosion. A variety of things can be used to polish silver, ranging from a paste of baking soda and water to commercial silver polishes. A salver should always be dried with a soft cloth before being stored, and contact with rubber and other forms of metal should be avoided, to prevent tarnish and staining. For long term-storage, silver should be wrapped in soft cloth and stored with a chunk of chalk or an anti-tarnish strip to prevent the development of tarnish.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By SZapper — On Sep 27, 2011

@Azuza - Well, not all salvers are unassuming. I saw one at a dinner party a little while back that was very decorative.

It had feet, and the whole thing was covered in decorative etchings. It looked expensive and I could tell the hostess had it out partly as a conversation piece. And, what do you know, someone took the bait and asked her about it. I had never heard of a salver before then, so that was my fun fact for that day.

By Azuza — On Sep 26, 2011

This is one household with a colorful history, for sure! I can't believe high-ranking people used to have to check their food for poison before they ate it. I really enjoy my mealtimes, but I feel like worrying about being poisoned would dampen my enjoyment!

It's funny how unassuming these trays are though. My aunt has one that she very proudly refers to as a salver. It is definitely not just a tray according to her! Still, to me, it looks like a plain silver tray.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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