October 2012 newsletter
September was a good month for Butler’s Antiques. I bought some wonderful decanters, but I also commissioned something else about which I am really quite excited! Put simply, I had a ‘eureka’ moment which has involved me quite deeply and it is all ‘coming together’.
I have said on numerous occasions that antique wine glasses are really no good for anything other than for admiring in a cabinet. First, most are of very small capacity, comparable to liqueur glasses, which nobody I know ever uses in the 21st century. Second, they are too valuable to use, and third, they are ruined if put in a dishwasher. In the 18th century, larger glasses were made but almost invariably they flare outward towards the rim, and such a shape does nothing for a good wine because it dissipates the ‘nose‘ or bouquet. Put simply, they do not allow maximum benefit to be drawn from a fine, or even a moderately good wine. There was, however, one exception - the cup-bowl goblet, often called a mead glass in the antiques trade, although there is no historical justification for that epithet.
Over the years, I have had a small number of so-called mead glasses, and have even used them; they are good. The ‘paris goblet’ - that standard glass used in almost every bistro and pub until recently, was clearly and closely derived from the cup-bowl goblet of the mid-18th century. The problem is that the 18th century originals are quite rare, and finding a set would be almost impossible and prohibitively expensive. So I searched for and found a glass-making business which is capable and happy to re-create the pattern for me. Thus, a few weeks ago, I made a long journey and visited the glass-house and saw them making a reproduction glass of another 18th century pattern. It was very good. They individually hand-make every glass in the traditional way, using authentic tools in the correct manner. I was very impressed with their work and asked them if they would be interested in my design. We discussed a good many technicalities and came up with a plan which we are putting into action!
As a result, I am able to offer authentic-looking cup-bowl glasses which admirably suit modern wine-drinking. They are large enough, they concentrate the bouquet, they have ‘folded feet’ to minimise the risk of chipping - and being well proportioned, they look superb! Each glass is hand-engraved with the maker’s signature and year of manufacture but it is so tiny and underneath that it is all but unnoticeable - so no jiggery-pokery trying to palm them off as originals. Incidentally, ‘manufacture’ is a very appropriate word because originally and literally, it means hand-made from the Latin, manus = hand + facere = to make. It is strange how words’ meanings depart from their origins, so that today we consider manufacturing as wholesale industrial production usually without any manual input. Click here to see the glasses.
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I have been extraordinarily lucky in the past month or two in finding several ship’s decanters - those with considerably wider bases than the standard ones. Any antique ship’s decanter is an unusual find as most are less than 100 years old. Indeed, many new decanters by leading glassmakers have very broad bases as it allows the wine inside more space to ‘breathe’. A problem with the modern versions is that pouring the wine from them can be quite difficult and with many models, extracting the last glass or so requires deft manipulation - or a butler.
The Georgians, by whom I mean those living in the reigns of the first four Georges (1714 - 1830) - not Kings George V or VI - were practical people. ‘Form follows function’ is a mantra first consciously applied to architecture in the late 19th century, but the idea was actually applied instinctively a more than a century earlier in the decorative arts. Whether it was a dining chair, a teapot, a corkscrew or a decanter, 18th century craftsmen designed and made objects which were both practical and beautiful to look at. That is the very reason why so much survives, quite apart from most of it having been made very well.
With a few exceptions, Georgian ship’s decanters pour easily. Not only that, but they are almost always of higher quality than standard models, because more refined glass and more generous amounts of it were used. There is another practical observation - Georgian ship’s decanters traditionally had flat stoppers, because mushroom stoppers, commonly seen in other decanters of the same date, would roll off a table! By contrast, most reproductions and modern versions do have mushroom or globe stoppers. Artisans of the Georgian era thought of these things!
I now have a page of my website given to ship’s decanters and a second to magnums and larger formats.