The Carol Litchfield Collection on the History of Salt

Monday, March 27, 2017

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never thought about salt all that much. It’s just one of those things that does great things to your food but does bad things to your blood pressure, and that’s where your knowledge (and probably interest) stop. 

Not so for Carol Litchfield. Litchfield was a biologist and biochemist specifically interested in halophilic microbiology, that being, microorganisms that live in salt rich environments.

Salt in piles being harvested
Postcard image of solar salt harvesting in France

Carol earned her Doctorate in Organic Biochemistry in 1969 and was a professor at Rutgers University in the department of microbiology for ten years. In 1980 she began work as a scientist for DuPont, and later worked as a consultant.

In 1993 she began working as a professor for George Mason University, where she remained for the rest of her career.  

Throughout her career, Carol collected anything and everything that had to do with salt.

Invoice from Alexander Kerr, Brother & Co., salt dealer in Philadelphia
Invoice from Alexander Kerr, Brother & Co., salt dealer in Philadelphia

If you’re interested in how salt was traditionally made and sold in France (or China, or Kansas, etc.), we have photographs and postcards, historical etchings, business invoices, and ration coupons. You’ve heard of the Morton Salt Company; maybe you’re interested in how they trained their salesmen in the 1940s, or their advertising history from 1916 to 2012.

If you are interested in the salt history of your state, we have salt related documents from 47 states and Puerto Rico. 

Empty salt bag sack that says "The Leo Brand"
Empty salt bag

It wasn’t just photos and documents that Litchfield collected, she also assembled a collection of objects.

Carol donated over 100 salt bags, 70 salt containers from around the world and throughout history (many still with the salt inside!), and 40 naturally occurring salt crystals. She was also interested in ephemera, and she collected advertisement pieces such as pencil toppers, pins, mugs, and refrigerator magnets.

Salt crystal attached to a piece of coral
Salt crystal from the Antilles, attached to a piece of coral

If you’re interested in advertising history, especially food advertising history, this collection is a fantastic resource. 

International salt shakers one in Hebrew one in French
International salt shakers

Worcester and Morton Salt pins
Worcester and Morton Salt pins

If you are interested in reading more about salt, Hagley has what you need! Carol Litchfield collected over a thousand books and pamphlets concerning salt written in eighteen different languages. These books are all available now in our library. To locate publications from the Carol Litchfield Collection, enter the collection control number of 20120612.CL into the search box of our library’s online catalog or ask a librarian for assistance at askhagley@hagley.org.

This collection wraps up with Carol Litchfield’s personal papers that deal with her salt research. You can find drafts of her papers and presentations about salt, annotated research, and notes from the salt conferences she attended (yes, there really are conferences that are all about salt).

By the time you’re done with this collection, you will know more about salt thank you ever thought you could! 

Check it all out here!


Becky Koch is the Project Archivist for the Litchfield Collection on the History of Salt.