The concept of trays is a lot older that you might think. The oldest known example, an earthenware tray said to date from the 7th or 6th century BC, is in the Hunterian Museum in Glasglow, and trays have been in use ever since in various guises.
Types of tray
Salvers are flat serving trays, normally made from silver. The name ‘salver’ is thought to come from the Latin ‘salvare’, meaning ‘to save’, as the food on it had been tested as non-poisoned and was fit for consumption.
Papier mache trays from Japan were popular in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, when trade routes opened up and there was a great enthusiasm for Oriental goods. These trays became increasingly elaborate, with mother-of-pearl decorations, until they were more decorative than practical.
Melamine was popular between the 1940s and 1960s, as it was lightweight and durable, and 1952 saw the advent of TV dinners, and therefore the TV tray.
Modern trays are made from every type of material, including plastic, metal, wood, rattan and acrylic, but their use has remained the same for centuries. We’ve picked out ten of our favourites.
1. Melamine tray, Doris and Boris
This bright, cheerful melamine tray is printed with a design of funky-coloured hens, and is perfect for using as a breakfast tray for a lazy Sunday morning. It costs £23.99 from Doris and Boris.
2. Leather tray, Meynells
This beautiful tray is crafted from tan leather, and has rounded corners and deep sides for easy carrying. It’s perfect for serving evening drinks – cut glass decanters, malt whisky and crystal glasses optional. £95, available from Leather and Lavender.
3. Wooden slatted tray, Oscar and Eve
This slatted wooden tray is made from sustainably sourced mango wood. As well as a sturdy carrying tray, you could also use it to display plant pots or fruit. It costs £26.95, from Oscar and Eve.
4. Modern wooden tray, Puji
This modern, sturdy wooden tray is decorated with a contemporary laser-printed design, and has plenty of room for serving cocktails and canapes at a party. £35, available from Puji.
5. Frangipani enamel tray, Nkuku
These lively frangipani floral design trays, are hand painted in Kashmiri. They’re made of hard wearing enamel and are available in red, green or blue. £22.95 from Nkuku.
6. Laptop lap tray, KICO products
This is a tray with a difference. It’s specially designed to use with a laptop, won’t block air vents and cause the machine to overheat and has space for a mouse at the side. It’s available in hundreds of different designs, and costs £26.99 from Kico.
7. Zinc tray, Anticline
This zinc tray is made by French company Anticline, and comes in two designs – CAFE, or APERO (the French slang for ‘aperatif, or pre-dinner drinks’). Its deep sides mean that drinks in tall glasses won’t slide off, and the handles fold flat for storage. £24.50, available from Boutique Provence.
8. Wicker garden tray, Very Nice Things
This unusual wicker tray has a glass base, printed with the words ‘welcome to my flower garden’. It’s perfect for carrying cups of tea or meals outside into the garden, and costs only £10 from Very Nice Things.
9. Biscuit tray, the Contemporary Home
Could there be a more perfect tray for carrying your morning cuppa and biscuit? Beautifully printed with the image of a very realistic rich tea biscuit, the tray costs £11 from The Contemporary Home.
10. Tray table, Alison at Home
This folding table has to be the ultimate in trays. The tray itself is removable, and the metal stand folds up out of the way when not in use, but it makes the perfect occasional table for afternoon tea or alfresco dining. £95, from Alison at Home.