"Curate’s assistant” is the curious name for a muffin stand (also used for small cakes and sandwiches). The stand is usually two or three shelves and is made of wicker or wood. “Curate’s assistant” is cited in print from the 1890s. Schmitt Brothers (40 East 23rd Street in Manhattan) advertised its “curate’s assistants” in the early 1900s.
The name “curate’s assistant” is not used today and is of historical interest. The name possibly derived from use in American churches.
The Expert Waitress:
A manual for the pantry, kitchen, and dining-room
By Anne Frances Springsteed
New York, NY: Harper & Brothers
A “Curate’s-assistant” (a wicker or wooden tripod with three shelves, each just large enough for a plate) is very convenient for serving sandwiches and cake at afternoon tea; but a salver covered with a handsome doily will answer every need.
The Correct Thing in Good Society
By Florence Howe Hall
Boston, MA: D. Estes & Company
To use a “curate’s assistant “ or tall stand made with several shelves, to hold the bread and butter and cake for an informal tea.
15 December 1903, New York (NY) Sun, pg. 12, col. 3 ad:
“The Mahogany of the Masters.”
We have some of those graceful Muffin Stands sometimes called Curate’s Assistants, which we feel will please the Xmas shopper. With two or three shelves in different designs their prices vary from $11 to $18.
Show-Rooms, 40 East 23d Street
18 December 1905, New York (NY) Sun, pg. 3, col. 7 ad:
The “Curate’s Assistant”
Or Muffin Stand is a smart and practical accessory of the Five o’Clock Tea Service. In plain and inlaid mahogany it makes, for the woman who entertains, a particularly appropriate gift.
40 East 23d.
30 October 1911, Idaho Statesman (Boise, ID), pg. 5:
IS AN IDEAL SERVANT
“Lazy Susan” Works Hard and Never Talks Back.
The housewife of Boise, always on the alert for all that is new and helpful in the way of housekeeping, must now procure a “Lazy Susan.” She may think she has one already, or perhaps a “Lazy Mary or Jane” but that is not the article intended.
A “Lazy Susan,” according to the House Beautiful, is an English invention, a cousin to the “curate’s assistant,” as the English muffin stand is called.
The Science of Culture
By William M. Handy
Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Inc.
If gentlemen are present, they are expected to relieve the ladies of empty cups and to pass the “Curate’s assistant,” as the little stand, on which cakes and sandwiches are put, is called.
8 January 1931, Seattle (WA) Daily Times, “Procedure in Afternoon Tea Service Provides Convenience” by Dorothy Neighbors, pg. 19:
An auxiliary table, a sort of aide-de-camp for the larger one, may be placed near the tea table. There used to be an attractive three-tray wicker kind called the “Curate’s Assistant” which was light and easy to pass to the guests.
The Young Hostess
By Beatrice Pierce
New York, NY: Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.
And that little three-tiered table known by the quaint name of “curate’s assistant” is a handy device for passing the sandwiches and cakes.