Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Georgian glassware and decanters

By Mike Rendell
In an idle moment I found myself wondering about glassware. My ancestor Richard Hall kindly bestowed upon me a veritable museum of his everyday items – his chairs, his books, his silver cutlery, even his brass bed-warmer, but not a single piece of glass. Perhaps not surprising given the passage of time, but there again his shell collection has lasted unscathed, and it would have been nice to have the odd decanter and a dozen glasses…
I gave the matter more thought when I read his diary entry about having a quarter pipe of port delivered from London. Research tells me that there are rather a lot of bottles in a pipe – 550 litres is one estimate, whereas another refers to 48 cases of 12 (75cc) bottles. Either way, it seems to me that you need a prodigious thirst, a decent sized wine cellar, and a considerable number of bottles and decanters to cope with that volume of wine (137 one litre bottles!). Besides, the quarter pipe was in addition to the home-made currant wine he bottled off each year, and the ‘Mountain Wine’ he bought, or the ‘coniac’ for special occasions.
Richard regularly had casks of wine sent down on the wagon (what an inappropriate expression!)  in the latter years of the Eighteenth Century and then sent back the empty cask by return. So, on 31st December 1797 he mentions paying the carrier Mr Ward for "a small cask of 6 gallons", charged for by weight at 6d per gallon i.e. three shillings for delivery.
I found it immensely reassuring to read that Richard was able to spend three times more on wine than he did on his taxes – at least he did until Income Tax hit him rather hard in 1800 ! His list of household expenses for 1797 shows a figure of £8/3/5 for wine and only  £2/8/ 3  for taxes. What a man! What a constitution! You try doing that 200 years later….
Mind you, even though the household was prodigiously generous, often noting casks of wine sent round to friends etc, there still seems to have been a lot left over for home consumption. Tantalisingly I have no idea if this consumption of alcohol was responsible for the sad litany of occasions when Richard noted that his dear wife fell over.
It just goes to show, with antecedents like that what hope is there for me staying sober and upright?
But back to glassware. Richard obviously had access to bottles for bottling off his wines – presumably looking like this one from the Museum of London’s collection and having a date of between 1771 and 1800.

But what of the decanters? In this I am indebted to the most excellent website belonging to Laurie Leigh Antiques.
They are based in Stow on the Wold, the nearest town to where ancestor Richard lived, so I suspect he would have known their premises in Church Street well. They have these splendid decanters, described as being a "pair of Georgian barrel-shaped decanters with three plain neck rings over a band of engraved festoons, bows and pendants. Moulded target stoppers. Circa 1800."
But I rather hope that Richard would have had the good taste (and the money) to go for the "Rare Georgian mallet-shaped decanter gilded with label for 'LISBON' surrounded by fruiting vines and scrollwork suspended by a chain. Cut disc stopper gilded en suite. Atelier of James Giles, London. Circa 1770"

What I find curious is that my offspring did not buy me it as a Christmas present – it cannot have been the price which put them off, a mere £4750, and yet I seem to recall that they chose to purchase some socks for me instead!

And what of the actual glasses? For my money I would go for a dozen of these at £375 each. Each is described as "Fine Georgian goblet with ovoid bowl decorated with large stars and festoons of 'sprig and oval' over basal cut facets, on stem cut with hexagonal hollow facets. Circa 1780".

Or perhaps Richard would have preferred a "Lovely Georgian wine glass with trumpet-shaped bowl finely engraved with flowers, foliage and scrollwork, on multispiral airtwist stem. Circa 1750".

Beautiful indeed, but I personally prefer something chunkier, like the "Rare Georgian baluster dram glass with round funnel bowl with basal tear on teared stem with inverted baluster knop and basal flattened knop on folded foot. Circa 1720.
Height: 4 inches. Price: £2400.00"
Even though it is only four inches high, that is a beautiful glass!

Again, for my money (though come to think of it, it is Richard buying these) I would go for something really delicate like the "Lovely Georgian Newcastle baluster goblet with round funnel bowl finely engraved with birds, flowers foliage and scrollwork, on stem with annular knop over elongated inverted baluster knop.
Circa 1730. Height: 7 inches. Price: £2850.00."

Whatever, these glasses look exquisite and I look forward to calling in on Laurie Leigh’s emporium when I am next in the Cotswolds. Cheers my dears!

(Mike has written a book about life in the Eighteenth Century entitled The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman, based upon his ancestor's diaries and miscellaneous papers. He also does a regular blog on aspects of the Georgian era.)


  1. How wonderful to have your ancestor's diaries! I love the glasses too-and like you, would love to own some. I collect tea bowls, which are a little more affordable-not quite the same, of course, but to own a fragile object that has escaped being broken for 200 years really does it for me!

  2. It is a bit like living in a museum though! I sit on my ancestor's chairs, eat with his cutlery, read his diaries which include his book lists, and look up at the shelves and see those same books staring down at me... my wife is very, very long suffering! The shells and fossils are in a bit of a heap in the corner and she thinks it is time they got sorted out! The diaries are fun because they are so mundane. I wrote them up as The Journal of a Geo.Gent. because that way others can share what has otherwise been hidden from view for 250 years.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.