Antique bread boards seem simple and “country style” these days, but in reality their history began as custom carved wooden boards for the nobility.  In this post I’ll share the history of bread boards, and a guide on collecting bread boards.

 

Before commercially available sliced bread, and before refrigeration, a bread board was an important part any kitchen.  A fresh loaf of bread would dry out or spoil if the cut side was left exposed.  After the first cuts, the bread would be placed flat side on the board, and wrapped with a towel or piece of muslin.

 

 

 

 

Originally based on the square trenchers {wood platters that were used to serve food before the porcelain or pottery plate became available}, each family boasted their own special and unique carved board.

 

 

No one really knows for sure who was the “inventor” of the breadboard.  “The earliest reference found to ‘bread-platters’ appeared in the Art-Union of 1848, referring to William Gibbs Rogers’ business of providing stunning, personalized breadboards to the aristocracy since the 1830s. ” according to the curator of the Bread Board Museum in England.

 

 

 

Hand carved, often with the family crest or coat-of-arms and mottos, the boards became very popular during the early 1800’s.  Customers of means ordered breadboards emblazoned with their crest for their homes.

 

 

By the mid 1800’s, wood workshops began making bread-platters in standardized designs that were priced for customers with middle incomes.

 

 

 

 

The round boards made in the Victorian era were meant for the table, these were most often carved with a household saying or scripture. Since the boards were hand cut, the lettering was slightly uneven, but oh so charming!

 

 

 

 

One of the best things about a collection of antique bread boards is that each one is different. All of them have aged with their own patina, wear, knife marks etc. so no two will ever look the same. These boards have lived, and have been privy to every breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner conversation in families for generations!

 

 

 

 

Traditional bread boards were carved from a single disc of wood and have  a graceful sloping rim. Most have a carved groove around the rim that was turned on a lathe.  This rim makes a gutter for crumbs. These days it’s also a wonderful base for a glass dome, if you can find one with the right dimensions.

 

 

 

 

Here are my best tips for collecting antique wood bread boards:

 

 

 

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:

 

1. SIZE

The average Victorian breadboard was around 12″, which changed to 8-10″ in the early 1900’s.  Because the boards were hand carved, some by individuals at home, the sizes can range between 12-15″.

 

2. PATINA.

The old bread boards will show signs that they have been used.  You should be able to see knife marks. The center of most antique boards have a slightly “softer” spot in the middle from decades of use. Most of the older bread boards will have some small chips or wear around the edges, and often there will be darker spots or a darker side on the boards.

I see plenty of reproduction type boards these days at flea-markets. Avoid those that look too “new’ – the authentic bread boards were workhorses. You should expect them to look like something used daily for generations!

 

3. WOOD.

Many of the boards are made of sycamore wood, chosen for its medium hard surface, and light weight. Sycamore boards do not splinter, and have a light grain, which made it easy to carve.  Boards were also made of oak, beech, walnut and fruitwood, but those are much more rare to find.

Avoid boards with knots, these were most likely made from less expensive outer portions of a tree. The knots can make a board prone to bowing, and sometimes the knot will fall out and create a hole.

 

4. CARVING. 

In  the early Victorian era, customers loved the understated carving with gothic lettering.  Master carvers created boards with beautifully portrayed designs of flowers, fruit, ferns, crests and monograms. These boards are exceptional, and are the most rare to find. {You can expect to pay from 400 and up for an exceptional board like this.}

When the bread boards became more commercially available and less expensive, the boards had more standardized designs with a repeat pattern around the board. Most boards will feature sheaves of wheat, grains, and a simple floral design.

 

5. MOTTOS.

At one time the breadboards were given as gifts at weddings, birthdays and holidays. The one-of-a-kind breadboards, home-made as gifts for special people or occasions, are the most rare to find. These boards will have names, scriptures, really anything the maker wanted to put on the board.

The most common mottos are Bread and Our Daily Bread. Others, not as common, have wise sayings such as “Waste Not.”

 

6. CARE. 

You can condition the wood by rubbing your boards with a wood block oil. It is an oil made for butcher blocks and chopping boards. I love Howard’s Butcher Block Conditioner. It is specifically made or food preparation surfaces, You just rub a little onto the wood and let it sit, preferably overnight.  The next day you just wipe off the excess and buff the board with a clean cloth.

Having said that, many collectors love light colored boards.  If you oil your board, the colors will darken and deepen. It is better for the life of your board to oil it, to stop it from drying out. But if you love the lighter boards, then either omit or go very light with the oil.

 

 

display of wall hung museum quality bread boards

{Credit: Bread Board Museum}

 

 

These amazing bread boards are part of the display in a small museum dedicated to bread boards in London. The examples they have curated are exceptional, truly the best of the best.

 

 

{Credit: Bread Board Museum}

 

Along with the collection of breadboards, they have an extensive collection of bread knives and other wood carved utensils on display.  It’s a quirky museum, but isn’t it so charming??

 

 

{Credit: Bread Board Museum}

 

Visit: Breadboard Museum of London

*READ HOW TO CLEAN & CARE FOR CUTTING BOARDS >

 

 

The best part of collecting antique bread boards is that no two are alike!  And…unless you have bought a stellar museum worthy board that you don’t want to use, they are so handy! I use ours at home to slice bread, to serve bread, to make a small cheese platter, the sky is the limit!

 

A BIENTOT

 

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