Well, Maybe Not My DIRECT Kin
By Jeff Salter
Considering my life-long love of coffee, imagine my surprise (and delight) at discovering – about eight years ago – that a possible distant relative ran a very famous coffee house in London’s Chelsea district. Yep. And it was established about 326 years ago, during the reign of King William III [AKA William of Orange]. Among its countless distinguished visitors were Benjamin Franklin and Isaac Newton.
Though my (possible) ancestor managed the establishment for only the first half (approximately) of its entire existence, this noted coffee house was in operation for some hundred years. In Saltero’s words – from one of his own advertisements of the day – we see the promotional appeal: “Monsters of all sorts here are seen…”
In the context of that day and place, however, nearly any type of critter you didn’t see in downtown London could have been considered a “monster”. Saltero also claimed to possess artifacts from the Queen of Sheba and from the wife of Pontius Pilate… among those of many other prominent historical figures.
Here’s a portion of the abstract of a (June 2005) scholarly journal’s article on this fabled coffee house, its owner, and its relationship to the British Museum.
Your Humble Servant Shows Himself:
Don Saltero and Public Coffeehouse Space
By Angela Todd
“In 1695, James Salter, who fashioned himself as “Don Saltero,” opened a coffeehouse on a respectable corner in Chelsea. The chief attraction of the coffeehouse, from Salter’s point of view, was the array of natural science detritus and colonial souvenirs displayed on the walls and ceiling. For the price of a cup of coffee, patrons could view the immensity of England’s global grasp, and ponder the bizarre workings of far-away lands and the earth’s creatures. What is noteworthy about Salter’s collection, however, is not the oddities on display – and there were many – but that his collection overlapped considerably with that of the esteemed collection held by Sir Hans Sloane, whose natural science collection became the basis for the British Museum. One collection was marked for Science and Knowledge in a museum; the other for Entertainment and Amusement in a coffeehouse. Coffeehouse space provided the foil for museum space. Taken together, they provide a significant narrative of the British empire, masculinity, and the formation of scientific hegemony in the modern era.”
Read Todd’s entire article for much more information, including a compelling look at the complex social / cultural rise of public coffeehouses — undoubtedly the forerunners of establishments like our modern-day Starbucks (though three centuries earlier).
Wikipedia’s Take on This Coffee House
A pertinent quote:
“Don Saltero’s was originally a barbers shop until Sir Hans Sloane began to donate unwanted objects from his own collections into the hands of James Salter, his former travelling servant. James Salter, or Don Saltero as he began to be known, displayed these objects in his place of business and the barbers shop evolved into Don Saltero’s Coffee House and Curiosity Museum. Objects included taxidermy monsters (crocodiles, turtles, rattlesnakes), which local gentlemen including scientist Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Hans Sloane liked to discuss over coffee.”
Note: Worthy of mention is the name James Salter is also the name of my paternal grandfather. His own dad – a Confederate soldier during the Civil War – also bore that name.
[JLS # 556]