Robin Butler on Twitter

April 2013

Earlier this week, I heard on the BBC news that Debenhams, a well-known British store chain, more famous for selling clothes and kitchen equipment, had announced that sales of decanters had risen by 40% in the last quarter.  We too are experiencing an increasing interest in our decanters.  I should have expected it because many of the UK most esteemed wine writers have been promoting decanters for everyday use quite vigorously.  And quite right, too; decanters should no longer regarded as objects to be wheeled out only on special occasions, or to impress when friends come for dinner. They should be part of the daily kit where wine is drunk - no doubt about it!

'Prussian' decanters, those made at the very beginning of the 19th century, with three neck rings and mushroom (usually) stoppers, do all the things one should ask of a decanter - they pour well, do not gurgle, allow a good sight of the wine, are easy to hold, and the neck rings allow for a really firm grip.  If all that were not enough, the standard size has sufficient space for a full bottle of wine to be oxygenated properly with plenty of air above the wine.  It really is quite extraordinary how glassmakers two hundred years ago perfected the shape so exquisitely.  The Georgians did have a knack of 'hitting the nail on the head' when it came to form following function.


Two years ago, I wrote about the prices of bullion and how it affected antique silver prices.  While gold is the prime bullion indicator, silver follows it and at the time, had reached £30 an ounce, before dropping back to £18 or thereabouts.  This price rise and fall was probably the work of commodity brokers and others gambling on the outcome together with the insecurity of currencies around the world.  At the time, it was generally thought that the dip would be short-lived, but the market since then has been less than buoyant - if generally on a slow upward trend.  During April however, more cogent forces have come into play and the price of silver, particularly, has plunged again. 

This time around, the crucial factor has been, so we are told, that Cyprus has had to offload its portfolio of bullion to support its currency - a move presumably demanded by Euro-people.   The underlying problem, however, is that it may not only be Cyprus; it could be Spain, Italy and Portugal who are coerced into selling off their bullion assets, too.  As Italy is very bullion-rich, with the world's 4th largest holdings at over 2,800 tonnes, the sale of its portfolio could deflate the bullion market very considerably.  One reads that such a thing could not be allowed to happen, but...? 

While bullion prices play little part in the prices of antique silver, they nevertheless, do have an influence.   It could be an interesting few months ahead - and possibly an excellent time to buy the shiny stuff!  As there is only a 6% 'spread' on the buying and selling prices, the market could well be in for some rampant speculation.  The only question is 'when'?    


Occasionally I buy something which could be very useful in the context of wine drinking at home - despite it having been originally made for a totally different purpose.  I think of a lemonade jug which serves well for pouring wine, or a tumbler/beaker originally intended for beer but is perfect for wine on a picnic today!   Carol, my wife, is very good at suggesting I 'think out of the box', and partly as a result, I bought a pair of very large 'show jars' originally intended for display in a pharmacy window, but which would be magnificent for a half-dozen bottles on wine!  You may remember them from my newsletter of last August.

One object I bought last week was a large copper broiling pan - presumably used to cook a large haunch of venison or a very sizeable gammon.  It was from a batterie de cuisine, no doubt from a country estate.  It retained its dull dark grey tinned interior, but the external surface gleams as copper.  I bears the initials RD above the number 1.  The number should not be surprising as it was probably the largest item in the set which may have numbered over 50 pieces. 

However, I decided that it would make an excellent wine cooler for a dozen bottles!  Actually you could put 15-18 bottles in it without much trouble.  What really appealed to me was that it was a small fraction of the price of a conventional mahogany wine cooler, is equally elegant and considerably more robust.  I thought it was irresistible! 

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