Once an accompaniment to the rowdy drinking sessions of Georgian gentlemen, the punchbowl eventually took its place in the polite drawing rooms
of Regency England.
Punch is traditionally made of five ingredients: spirits, water, sugar, citrus fruit (generally oranges or lemons), and spices. The name, indeed, is said to derive from a Hindustani word for 'five'. It first appeared in English in the 17th century and by the
18th century punch was a very popular drink. Originally it was associated with
all male gatherings, but towards the end of the 18th century it was introduced into polite society, being served at balls and other elegant gatherings in grand houses.
The basic punch recipe was open to infinite variation and individual recipes were often kept secret. Rum vied with brandy (the former was particularly popular in Scotland), tea could replace water, and milk could be added to make milk punch. The resulting concoction could be drunk hot or cold.
Punch drinking involved a certain amount of ceremony, which was presided over by a host or chairman. The varied array of equipment included the punchbowl or jorum, the monteith, the spice box, the nutmeg grater, the punch pot (an alternative to the bowl, shaped rather like a giant teapot, but without the spout), glasses or 'rummers', the punch strainer (for removing fruit pips), the ladle, the whisk and the toddy lifter or filler.
MONTEITHS AND TODDY LIFTERS
The names of the equipment are all fairly self
explanatory, apart from monteith and toddy lifter. A monteith is a bowl with a notched or scalloped rim (supposedly named after a Scotsman who wore a cloak with its bottom scalloped). It was originally used as a glass cooler (the glasses were suspended by their bases from the notches in the rim), but then the rim was made detachable, so it could double as a punch bowl. Monteiths declined in popularity after about 1720 as bowls made specifically for punch became more widespread and more elaborate in design.
Toddy is a stronger form of punch, so it was usually drunk from smaller glasses. Toddy
lifters were used for transferring the drink from bowl to glass. These devices are shaped like miniature, slimline decanters with a hole at either end and they operate on a siphon principle. To use one you immerse it in the punch and close your thumb over the neck hole, thereby trapping the liquid inside. When you want the liquid to pour out into the glass, you simply release your thumb. They usually have a capacity of a quarter of a pint. Toddy lifters became popular around
1780 and many people preferred them to a ladle.
Punch is still a very popular party drink, but the full array of equipment that once went with it is
seldom used today. However, a fine punchbowl in itself creates an air of 18th
PUNCH BOWL COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Punchbowls were made in three main materials - ceramics, glass and silver - and occasionally in wood. This variety reflects the fact that punch was drunk by people of different social classes and incomes. Very fine products were made in each material, so there is a wide range for anyone interested in making a general collection and also scope for learned specialization for anyone who wants to devote themselves to one particular type.
Some collectors are interested primarily in accessories, for the punchbowl at the height of its popularity was accompanied by a surprising amount of paraphernalia, all highly collectable in its
own right. The punchbowls themselves are often fascinating from a historical point of view, as well as delightful to look at. Punch was the favourite drink of the Whig party in Georgian times and the bowls are sometimes embellished with political slogans, as well as with other inscriptions such as a motto or owner's name.
Ceramic punchbowls, produced in most kinds of pottery and porcelain, enjoyed a constant popularity. Some of the finest porcelain examples were imported directly from China in the second half of the 18th century, and these were often decorated with hunting scenes. For those who could not afford oriental porcelain, there were cheaper earthenware pieces, with tin glaze, known as delftware. Delftware was produced in England from the late 16th century in imitation of Dutch
Delft pottery; the factories in Lambeth and Bristol manufactured the most notable examples.
Punchbowls can also be found in stoneware; the brown salt-glazed lathe-turned stoneware made in Nottingham in the 18th century was often of high quality. Designs were incised with a sharp instrument before the bowl was fired in the kiln.
Glass punchbowls first appeared in the mid-18th century but became really popular only in the Regency period. There are a few early examples of glass monteiths, but these were soon superseded by simpler glass coolers that held only one or two glasses. Glass punchbowls were often accompanied by a matching ladle and a set of drinking glasses.
Silver punchbowls are comparatively rare and often fetch high prices. The earliest identifiable example dates from 1680 and production died out around the 1820s, though copies of Georgian bowls were made in the Victorian era. Silver punchbowls were often used for presentation purposes and were generally engraved accordingly.
Punchbowls can be found at all the usual outlets for antiques. A useful tip is that they are sometimes not recognized as punchbowls and instead are sold as fruit bowls. If you happen to spot one that has been misidentified in this way, you are likely to pay less for it than if had been correctly identified.