Photography by 2nd Truth

Considered one of the most decorative objects in serve ware, the soup tureen has been subjected to a long period of rest on the top shelf of the china cupboard. Whatever the cause of this phenomenon, whether dining styles or lifestyle changes, this objet d’art is finding its way back to the head of the table.

The tureen was developed in France, a great soup-eating country. This explains why it reached such an elaborate form. It is considered the crowning jewel of a complete dinner service, thus its rise as an impressive gift and commemorative piece often commissioned by nobility and heads of state. While popular in silver in the 18th and 19th centuries, designs were later adapted for porcelain and earthenware, retaining the same lidded, oval aesthetic. Recently, an extraordinary silver Georgian tureen created for Sir Richard Carr Glyn appeared on 1stdibs, offered by M.S. Rau Antiques for $88,850 — evidence of the impressive collectability of these items.

Tureens are not only beautiful and ornate; they are also incredibly functional. While it was common to have more than two adorning a dining table, this didn’t necessarily indicate multiple soups were being served. It was merely a means to ensure a sufficient supply to go around without going back into the kitchen. The use of multiple tureens is evidenced in an account of a dinner given by George Washington that employed three. Table placement followed protocol as outlined in Inquire Within for Anything You Want to Know, an 1857 book of household hints: “Soups or broth should always be placed at the head of the table; if there are two, top and bottom.”

All this pomp and circumstance is fine for the formal dinner party, but I like to have a little more fun with my tureens. Place them by the fire for kindling and large matches. Keep one in the kitchen for recipes and useful articles. But my favorite use, undisputedly, is for magazines and mail. Find a treasured tureen at a local antique store, like this beloved one procured from the Gold Mine Antiques in Wayzata.

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.