My Family’s Coffee House from 326 Years Ago

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.

Cheyne Walk in 1850 [long after the museum aspect folded], depicting Don Saltero’s as a hotel and tavern

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
Abstract

“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).

Your Humble Servant Shows Himself: Don Saltero and Public Coffeehouse Space (bridgew.edu)

Wikipedia’s Take on This Coffee House

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Saltero%27s

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.”

Saltero’s Tavern & Coffee House, circa 1695

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]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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19 Responses to My Family’s Coffee House from 326 Years Ago

  1. How absolutely fascinating! Not just a historic coffeehouse, but a MUSEUM! I hope that you find a connection him, but even so, all of this incredible.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jbrayweber says:

    How COOL would that be if this gentleman is your ancestor! At any rate, what an interesting character. Crazy to think that even way back then there was a fascination for oddities and coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Babb says:

    Great post, Jeff!  It’s wonderful to have these stories about your forebears.  Sounds like the imagination behind your books is inherited.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks. This interesting individual published frequent (? maybe annual ?) updated “catalogs” of his collection in the museum. Some of those survive. I’d love to get my hands on a copy.

      Like

  4. I hope you can discover a connection with him. That is so cool! I would have loved to visit a shop like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How exciting to uncover such information about a possible ancestor. It’s the kind of thing I’m hoping for in my research on my paternal (Irish) side of the family. Now you have so many more avenues for your stories. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patricia Kiyono says:

    James sounds like a fascinating and enterprising man. Hope you’re able to find a connection to him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks. I’ll leave that to the genealogy-minded folks in my family. Years ago, I learned I didn’t have the patience to be a true genealogist.

      Like

  7. Elaine Cantrell says:

    How wonderful! I bet you really are connected.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Love the history of coffee-thanks!

    Like

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