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May 17, 2021 - June 29, 2021

'Serving Fish and Oysters in the Gilded Age'

Ventfort Hall

104 Walker St., Lenox, Massachusetts

Photo courtesy Ventfort Hall

"Serving Fish and Oysters in the Gilded Age" is a table exhibit displaying special items on loan from Alice Nathan, Tjasa Sprague, and Cornelia Brooke Gilder, friends of Ventfort Hall. The exhibit, featuring a full range of seafood antiques for the table, is on display in the dining room of the mansion.

Oysters alone were a highly popular seafood frequently served during the Gilded Age, a fact proven by a bill sent to Ventfort Hall owner George Morgan listing 42 shuckings over three months in 1896. Fish and shellfish of all kinds were plentiful during the Gilded Age and it's only natural to tie the exhibit to Ventfort.

On display among other items are large oval platters with matching plates, each hand painted with a true-to-life scene of fish depicted at the bottom of the deep blue sea amongst flowing foliage. There also are majolica oyster plates with circles of cavities, just the size and shape to hold single oysters on the half shell.

For serving fish, there are elaborately engraved large silver forks and knives with ivory handles, and others with silver handles, each pair stored in leather and satin padded presentation boxes. Other pieces on display include a majolica sardine box covered with an en relief basket weave design, the lid of which is topped by a sardine for the handle; a silver oyster tray with a lacy filigree border, and pairs of matching silver forks and knives with imitation ivory handles made of an early form of Bakelite.

The antiques are 19th-century tableware produced in England, Germany, and other countries exclusively for the fish course, possibly for a multi-course formal dinner.

The exhibit is included in general house admission for self-guided tours of $18, $17 for those 65+. Visiting hours are Thursday–Tuesday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Closed on Wednesdays. Masks are required. For information or reservations, call Ventfort Hall at 413-637-3206.

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