This 1920s clay butter dish is a beautiful example of a technical solution to the problems involved in preserving foods. In the early 20th century, the storage of milk products was a major concern for private households that did not yet have modern appliances at their disposal. In 1851, James Harrison had invented the icebox, but it had still not arrived in Western homes.
Typically circular or oval with a matching plate, butter dishes are often very decorative. They have evolved in many different shapes and forms. In the 18th century, for instance, there was the butter bucket; and in the 19th century, a butter dish with a double-walled cover. This remarkable 1920s model from the museum collection is from the Netherlands. The double-walled cover is filled with water to help the butter stay fresh longer. As the water evaporates, it cools the clay as well as the butter.