Wine and its Collectables

Some people think wine has only been popular in Britain in recent years, but that is definitely not so. There was serious drinking at Regency dinner parties when the ladies had retired to the drawing room to drink tea and the servants would bring decanters of wine, port and sherry for the gentlemen. Keeping the wines cool was not easy in a room with a blazing fire and lit by dozens of candles. The most simple solution was using a pair of elegant ice buckets, but during large parties and balls they would have used a wooden wine cooler, which could hold a number of bottles and could be stowed away under the table.

At the time of the Regency the wines would have been imported from Spain, Portugal and Germany.  Since Britain was often at war with France French wines were not favoured.  The most popular drink of the day was Port and this made up about 40% of England’s entire wine consumption.  The gentlemen would drink Port after dinner in large quantities, often consuming a bottle per head.

As the gentlemen of the upper classes often were patrons of the arts and did a lot of entertaining where wine was handed around to the guests, they bought or commissioned decanters, funnels, wine labels, coasters and other accessories in huge quantities.  Britain in those days was the centre of the world wine business and Britian imported more wine than any other country, which gave British wine merchants top position in the international wine trade.  In previous centuries Britain’s demands fuelled the invention of Port, Madeira and Sherry, as well as creating a demand for unfortified wines.  This meant that there were large numbers of accessories available to its customers, many of which have survived until today.

The 18th century saw many important changes in the way wine was kept and bottled.  The use of corks meant that wine could be in the bottle rather than the cask.

The majority of wine accessories were made from silver or silver plate during the 18th century and over the past few years silver, like many other antique seems to have come down in value.  Auction prices can be quite low and now would be a good time to buy if you want to start a collection.

Punch Ladles

Silver punch ladles were produced in great numbers in the second half of the 18th century.  Early handles were usually made from turned wood, but later in the century twisted whalebone handles were more common.  Many of the later ladles were not hallmarked; this was due to the practice of hammering the bowl of the ladle from a silver crown piece.  While the centre of the coin was beaten into shape, the inscribed coin edge was left visible around the rim of the bowl as a guarantee of the purity of the silver.  A silver shilling or a sixpence was then inserted into the base of the bowl as further proof of purity.  Such pieces were known as ‘dollar ladles’.

Wine Labels

As a greater variety of wines and spirits became available in the 18th century, all requiring decanting for the table, there arose a demand for wine labels or ‘bottle tickets’ to hang around decanter necks.  An enormous variety of labels were produced and they continued to be made in large quantities until the middle of the 19th century.  Unusual titles and quirkily shaped labels are sought after by collectors.

Flasks and Jugs

A few hip or spirit flasks dating from the late 17th or early 18th century can be found but the peak period of production was the early 20th century.  Most flasks were made either completely of silver or of glass covered in leather with silver mounts, and many are fitted with a detachable beaker.

Silver claret jugs were produced in large quantities from the early 19th century onward.  Although some jugs were made entirely of silver, most were made of glass with silver or electroplated mounts.

Wine Funnels

Decanting wine required the use of a funnel – particularly if it is done in a dimly lit cellar.  Most wine funnels are made of silver and it is not surprising that these were developed from the late 1750s following the introduction of binning, and the maturation of the earliest binned bottles.  Wine funnels are distinguished from those used for other culinary purposes by having cranked spouts which deflect the wine down the side of the decanter.  They are also fitted with a coarse filter to catch any pieces of cork, and come in two parts so that they can be easily cleaned.  Additionally most were fitted with an interior ring to which a fine piece of muslin could be sewn for finer filtration.  While porcelain, glass and enamel wine funnels are known, they are very uncommon.  Silver plated examples tend to be early 19th century at the earliest.

Decanters

Wine had been imported to Britain from other European countries since the 16th century, but it was not until the 18th century that it blossomed into a major business.  English glass decanters have a history dating back to the 1670s.  Decanter designs evolved in a clear pattern, particularly as fresh manufacturing techniques allowed much greater freedom of artistic impression and the market increased well into the 19th century.

Wine antiques can be found in many antique shops and auction rooms but if you want to become a serious collector you may want to buy from a specialist, as general dealers don’t have the expertise and don’t always recognize the significance of the pieces.  A specialist will also prove invaluable when you are trying to establish whether the piece you are about to buy is genuine or a well made copy.

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