Introduced in the late 1600s, cruet sets were originally known as castors or castor sets.
In the days before the formal cruet set, historically these types of single vessels were used to hold sugar, salt, and pepper. Diners would 'cast' or shake the contents on their food.
The castor / cruet set was a more formal set up for flavoring food at the table. What once were just separate containers that held what had been a more casual act of flavoring food became a much more formal affair.
The cruet set was made up of glass bottles that were created specifically to hold vinegar and oil followed by silver and glass lids and tops that would hold pepper along with other condiments and flavorings.
The popularity of the cruet set saw an explosion in the 1800s with more intricate designs. The central stand style that is familiar to many was created in the 1800s. It was made up of a central "tree" with a tray with holes that held six or seven matching bottles with a top central handle. This very formal design suited the Victorian table perfectly.
The mid 1800s saw the concept make its way across the pond to American. Pressed glass and silverplate brought the cost to within reach of the middle class market and they ate it up.
Many of the companies that produced full size castor sets also produced the sets in miniature to be sold as toys such as the one pictured here. Remains of these small castor sets were found at the site of the boston and Sandwich Glass Company which dates miniature castor sets to 1870-1897.
The modern cruet set is still in use today and although it has changed from the ornate centerpiece of a 100 years ago, it is still a vital part of the dining table.
Chicago Tribune; 2000; Leslie Hindman
2016 Beverley Byer
Toy Glass; 1989; Doris Anderson Lechler