Mayonnaise sets – the saga continues

Little did I guess last month that my search for antique, three-piece mayonnaise sets would create such a stir among, er, three-piece mayonnaise set aficionados from California to Colorado.

The quest, strangely enough, began in a rambling, three-story antique mall in the strategically unimportant Butte County community of Paradise.

It was in a dim corner of that forgotten roadside antique mart in early March that I saw a large cardboard sign proclaiming the presence of a “THREE-PIECE MAYONNAISE SET!”

Having never heard of even a one-piece mayonnaise set, I was understandably intrigued – but not intrigued enough to actually peek behind the sign to see what an antique THREE-PIECE MAYONNAISE SET! actually looks like.

I was, however, interested enough in the tableware oddity to mention it to my ex-wife and full-time kids, who had accompanied me to the antique emporium in search of what my daughter generally classifies as “weird old stuff.”

Sad as it seems, my family accused me of making up the THREE-PIECE MAYONNAISE SET!

“Daaaaad, there’s no such thing,” my daughter protested.

“Stop it – you’re traumatizing your little girl,” warned my ex-wife.

“Yeah,” explained my son-in-law.

My family was so adamant that even I began to doubt that I’d actually seen a sign for a THREE-PIECE MAYONNAISE SET!

Fortunately, readers came to the rescue last week, recalling their favorite mayonnaise set stories and even mailing me photos.

Americans, it seems, were absolutely head-over-heels about their mayonnaise from the 1900s through the 1950s. Mayonnaise sets – usually made from elaborately cut glass or crystal – included a base plate, a large serving bowl and a handy ladle for scooping out healthy portions of mayo for the whole family.

Some of these look to be about the size of a soup bowl, but a few of the photos I’ve been sent show a container that appears to be larger than a punch bowl.

(The latter was probably filled by one of those old neighborhood mayonnaise tankers that once rumbled down America’s suburban roadways at 5 a.m. every Wednesday morning…)

The pre-1950 ham sandwich, it would seem, needed at least a pint of freshly-ladled mayonnaise on it to qualify as a respectable American repast.

Napa antique dealer Jewel Ryan said she’d only seen one THREE-PIECE MAYONNAISE SET! in her career.

“I had it in the store for a couple of years and I thought I was stuck with it forever, but somebody finally bought it,” she recalled.

Nobody, it would seem, still manufactures THREE-PIECE MAYONNAISE SETS! and the ones that are still around are considered collectors’ items, fetching prices from $40 to more than $200 from mayonnaise lovers and people who make really, really big sandwiches.

So explore your attic, look in the barn, fall down the stairs and check out the basement – you may have a valuable THREE-PIECE MAYONNAISE SET! in your home and not even know it…

Originally published April 13, 2003

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