HISTORY OF WINE DECANTERS AND CLARET JUGS
Claret jugs and decanters represent some of the best of glassware, but they are still within the reach of many collectors.
Until the 17th century, wine was served straight from the bottle; then it gradually became customary to pour it into a special serving bottle or jug before carrying it to the table.
In addition to being more decorous, the new procedure had a practical advantage: if the wine was poured slowly and gently into the serving jug, all of the sediment was left behind in the bottle. This process was known as 'canting', and as early as 1710 the vessel that received the wine was being referred to in advertisements as a 'decanther'.
Early decanters are rarities, not likely to be encountered outside museums, but a great number of them were made during the 18th century.
The growing refinement of society encouraged elegant products for the dining table, and improved techniques meant that by this time glassmakers were able to make wares combining high quality with the strength that was needed for everyday use.
Originally it was fortified wine such as port, Madeira and sherry that was served in a decanter, a practice extended only much later to whisky and other spirits. Another popular drink was claret, which had a different meaning in the 18th century.
Today it refers to dark red wines, but formerly it was a general term for the light red wines of Bordeaux, which Englishmen had been drinking with their meals since the Middle Ages (when this area was ruled by England).
Wine vessels with handles are called claret jugs; the term 'decanter' is reserved for those that are held by the neck.
An imposingly tall claret jug evokes the refined elegance of the 18th century.
This was a great age for British glassware and a claret jug can look as handsome in a modern domestic setting as it did in the dining room of a Georgian house.
WINE DECANTER COLLECTOR'S NOTES
The collector of decanters and claret jugs enjoys all the pleasures and pains to be experienced when exploring a complicated and extremely varied subject.
Real knowledge can be acquired only after much looking and learning.
Those who wish to specialize have any number of avenues to explore and it is possible to build a collection on themes such as size (decanters range from half pint to magnum), type of decoration, and maker or place of origin.
To take just one example, the brother and sister partnership of William and Mary Beuhy decorated decanters with exquisitely delicate enamelling.
Their subjects included grapes, vines, butterflies, rustic scenes and, occasionally, coats of arms; their glassware makes a fascinating field of study in itself.
They worked in Newcastle upon Tyne (a major centre of glassmaking at this time) until I
778, when they moved north of the border to Scotland, settling in Fife.
BUBBLES, CRACKS AND CHIPS
Before buying a decanter or claret jug, it is particularly important to distinguish between imperfections that do and do not matter.
The little bubbles in Georgian glass were unavoidable with the techniques of the time; far from being flaws, they can therefore be regarded as indications of authenticity.
Tiny cracks in the base are also common and acceptable, but chips are more serious faults; if they are prominently visible they greatly diminish the value of the piece.
This is also true of the white stains inside some decanters, although filling the body with vinegar, leaving it overnight and wiping it out the next day may succeed in removing them.
The stopper is also important, and the collector should ensure that it is compatible in style and period with the decanter it accompanies.
A set of three cutglass spirit decanters in a silver holder; it has rings to hold the stoppers while the drink is poured.