How many of us have visited an antique mall, flea market or a yard sale and seen one of these covered dishes? They seem to be everywhere; they have been made and remade since the 1770’s. You find them in just about every color. They come in sizes from two-inches to eight-inches in length. There are hens, ducks, turkeys and other poultry. Then there are similar dishes with dairy animals. In the 1840’s they were used as chimney pieces and primarily are still used in this manner. They are definitely collectible.
In a museum recently I came across some of the smaller ones and they were marked “Egg cups.” Why were they called “egg cups” instead of “hen on the nest” covered dishes? I asked a few people in the business of antiques, “what is the use of these covered dishes?” The response I received the most was a “candy dish.”
Is this covered dish made to be used as a candy dish, as a chimney piece or is it really an egg cup? When I think of an egg cup. It is definitely not covered. It looks more like a cup or mug to me. There are several different ways to cooks eggs; boiled, fried, scrambled, deviled, baked, steamed, made into meringue or eggnog. And several different dishes we use to serve eggs; egg cups, egg platters or deviled egg dishes and egg coddlers. Why call those “egg cups" and not “hen on a nest” dishes?
The answer lies in the history of the 1770’s. These dishes were made to serve the eatable egg. The smaller “hen on a nest” dishes or egg cups were used for poached, steamed or baked eggs. The larger “hen on the nest’ were used to serve the hard- or soft-boiled eggs and scrambled eggs. Some of the smaller covered dishes were used for salt. Even other of these dishes were used for butter. These once possibly daily used dishes have evolved into chimney pieces and candy dishes and there are many more uses for them being created daily.