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History of Claret Jugs

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the history of silver mounted claret jugs is that they should have developed so late in the second millennium A.D. The history of wine in the form of fermented grapes can be traced to certain parts of the Middle East circa 4000 BC. Of the various stories credited with its first conception, the most charming one relates to a lady in the harem of the mythological Persian king Jemsheed. The king was very fond of grapes and used to store them in large jars so that he could eat them gradually during the year. One day, he ate a grape from the jar and finding it no longer sweet, he had the jar labeled 'poison'. Some time later, a distraught lady from his harem found the jar and on reading the label decided to take her life by drinking some of its content. The next day she woke up free from her troubles and decided to drink some more from the jar, which she now found to her liking. Later, she shared her secret with the king who tried the drink again, and now liking it, introduced the newly discovered beverage to his court.

Fact or fiction, there is no doubt that by 2500 BC, the cultivation of vines for the express purpose of making wine was well established in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. From there, as trade patterns developed, the culture of vines spread to Ancient Greece and on through the Roman Empire. Its consumption was limited to the upper echelons of society, often centered on religious festivals. These elite consumers developed quasi ritualistic conventions for preparing and serving the beverage. Not surprisingly, the local potters and silversmiths were soon busy at work creating magnificent mixing, pouring and drinking vessels.

Although glass making as a craft dates back to the Egyptians, its use was limited primarily to jewelry. It was the Romans who developed glass as a consumable item, but with the demise of their empire and civilization, this craft almost disappeared, certainly on any large scale. There were still a few outposts in Europe and the Middle East where some glass was made, but nothing to compare with the industry that the Romans had developed. In the Post Roman period, pottery remained the preferred material associated with the consumption of wine until the Middle Ages when metals such as silver, brass and pewter gradually replaced it.

From the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries the hub of the glass industry was centered around Venice, one of the major trading nations of Europe. Glass from the factories on the island of Murano supplied the bulk of the European Market. By the seventeenth century, the glass industry had expanded northwards to France, the Low Countries and Germany, although it was probably an Englishman, George Ravenscroft, who revolutionized it in 1673, with his discovery of lead crystal, often referred to at the time as 'flynt' glass.

Flynt glass had a number of considerable advantages over soda glass which had previously been the norm. The lead oxide flux made it much heavier and harder. It could be cut in a similar fashion as a gem cutter would cut a precious stone. The metal also gave it both a stronger luster and greater refraction when cut. By the end of the century, many manufacturers had switched to lead oxide glass, particularly in Northern Europe. As the social mores of the ruling classes evolved, with the nobility in each country spending increasing amounts of time gravitating around their respective royal courts, so did the demand for the new luxury products. Crystal chandeliers to light their dim houses, mirrors and windowpanes, as well as drinking glasses and pouring vessels were sought after.

The silver mounted claret jug can trace its origins to the Elizabethan era. In England, the mounted tigerware jug became a standard item in the most fashionable and affluent households. Throughout the Middle Ages, pottery vessels had been the basic utensil for serving wine, with the exception of silver which was sparingly used by the very wealthiest families. The Spanish conquest of Latin America and the exploits of British buccaneers, like Sir Francis Drake, eventually made the metal more readily available in England and throughout Europe. During this same period, there was a strong tradition of mounting precious objects with silver in Continental Europe. Fine porcelains brought back from the Dutch East Indies were regularly enhanced with silver rims or handles, as were cups, made from precious materials such as nautilus shells, rhinoceros horn and rock crystal. Fine Venetian and Flemish glass was occasionally treated in the same manner, but on the whole, these were ornamental pieces destined for the towering side-board, displaying the fashionable taste and wealth of the household for all to see.

The tigerware jug however, was certainly a practical utensil. The pottery body was relatively inexpensive and could easily be replaced if damaged. Its relatively short-lived fashion, from approximately 1550 to 1630, was almost certainly due to the greater availability of silver toward the middle of the seventeenth century, when silver pouring vessels became the norm.

For most of the 18th century, wines were either served out of solid silver vessels, or from glass decanters and bottles. Most households purchased wines in casks which were stored in the cellar, from which the head butler would decant into the chosen serving vessel prior to the meal. It was not until the early 19th century when glass manufacturing developed sufficiently that wines were bottled at the source in uniform bottles. This probably explains the sudden appearance of silver mounted claret jugs from about 1830 onwards. As the use and storage of wine became easier, and as the industrial revolution produced a larger consumer class for finer living and drinking, so the demand and consumption of wine grew and with it the need for new conventions, customs and accessories.






The evolution of styles and design of silver mounted claret jugs reflects the evolution of Victorian design in general, with perhaps the exception of the earliest jugs circa 1835. These were constructed as pierced out silver cages that were assembled to enclose glass bottles (similar to the half case silver mounts in #865). This style was short lived probably in part due to the difficulty of cleaning them. Other early jugs were exact copies of solid silver vessels. Paul Storr in particular, always at the forefront of fashion, made the abscos form jug both in solid silver and silver mounted glass (#871).

At the dawn of the Victorian era however, the fascination was still with naturalism, and the association with the vine lent itself perfectly for intricate silver decoration of climbing vines, with cast vine leaves and grapes. Handles were often modeled as intertwined stems of the vine plant.(#870 & #861). Colored glass was often used, particularly around the 1840s. This was partly due to the demands of fashion, requiring objects of ever increasing luxury, but also a result of the developing glass industry in England. The favored colors were ruby and green (#735), although occasionally, amber and amethyst were used.(#865)

The wealth of England and its domination over Europe at this time had attracted a large number of skilled craftsmen to the island. Among these were Austro-Hungarian glass blowers who brought with them new techniques.






Cased glass was one such development, illustrated in the collection by the particularly fine pair mounted by Charles & George Fox in 1841 (#843). The glass for these was probably imported from France, as the earliest record of English cased glass are in the Richardson pattern books of 1844, but the triple cased jug of 1845 mounted by Reiley & Storer (#863) was almost certainly made in the Richardson glassworks, the large lobed panels being typical of some of his designs.

By 1845, two factors greatly influenced the development of claret jugs. First, the repeal of the Glass Excise Tax in 1845 provided a considerable boost to glass manufacturing. Previously, the tax had been levied on the weight of molten glass in the vat, not on finished product. This had greatly restricted experimental development as well as increasing costs. Furthermore, the rules for calculating the tax due were constantly changing. A complex set of administrative procedures was monitored in each licensed glass works by three excise officers working a rotation of three eight-hour shifts. This was now abolished.

Second, at about the same period, there was a large influx of Bohemian engravers, attracted to England by its affluent society and the demand it generated for their skills. These two factors provided the foundations on which the glass industry prospered in England for the rest of the century.

During the following thirty years or so, the Greek revival provided much of the inspiration for claret jug design. Sometimes it was the outline form and sometimes the decoration. As the pool of skilled glass engravers grew, so did the output of delicately copper wheel engraved claret jugs (#732, #593, #866). Simple geometric designs soon evolved into intricately carved intaglios with designs ranging from a Roman goddess drawn on her chariot by frenzied horses (#613) to a patriotic British lion, engaged in a mortal battle with a serpent (#585).







The Victorian penchant for satire, is perhaps best illustrated with the very beautiful jug mounted by William Edwards in 1873. The engraved glass inspired by Sir Edwin Landseer's Monkeyana, depicts three apes dressed as monks (complete with crucifixes attached to their belts) carousing in a wine cellar while partaking in 'genteel' inebriation. (#730).

Not all these intaglios were satirical.(#731) for example, plays more on a contrasting Victorian taste for idyllic romanticism, perfectly portrayed by the engraved scene of the young shepherdess, sleeping peacefully in the beautiful English countryside, watched over by her faithful sheep dog.

By the 1860s, the fashion for silver mounted jugs had begun to spread. In France, the Odiot workshops were beginning to produce elegant designs (#588), while in America, Tiffany created the enchanting claret jug with matching wineglasses (#743). The Bohemian glass works which previously had used painted gold decoration to simulate silver gilt mounts, also began designing jugs with silver mounts (#610) although these tended to be more baroque in style and execution. Although the jug in this collection is of the highest craftsmanship and execution, it is an exception, and most of the production from central Europe and this period was aimed primarily at a less expensive end of the market.





By the 1870s, new techniques for decorating glass had evolved. As the demand for glass grew, the manufacturers attempted to lower their production costs and also increase their output. Acid etching greatly reduced both the time and cost required to decorate glass. It also lent itself particularly well to Greek revival decoration pioneered by George Adams and Josiah Wedgewood at the end of the 18th century (#879). This last pair of claret jugs represents the finest aspect of acid decoration, the norm being much more simple geometric designs, often found on jugs with Sheffield made silver mounts, massed produced by an ever growing number of workshops such as William & George Sissons.

In contrast to mass production, the finest retailers in London were demanding ever more fanciful objects for their discerning clientele. None exemplifies this better than the animal claret jugs.

Perhaps the most eccentric and novel of the silver mounted claret jugs, produced by the Victorians, were the animals. The origin of these is commonly credited to Alexander Crichton, a silversmith of relatively obscure background whose earliest recorded work, a condiment set, was hallmarked in London (1873-4), and retailed by Hamilton, Crichton & Co., goldsmiths of 41 George Street, Edinburgh. By 1880, Crichton had formed a partnership with John Curry and was trading as Crichton & Curry from premises at 45 Rathborne Place, Oxford Street, London, where they were listed as "designers, modellers and silversmiths". In the 1860s, the firm of Charles & George Fox had produced a claret jug made entirely of silver in the form of a Wyvern, but this was a copy of a Viennese porcelain chocolate pot from the previous century and did not combine silver with glass. The inspiration for the animals is credited by many to have come from Sir John Tenniel's illustrations for Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland' (1865) and 'Alice Through the Looking Glass' (1872). A search through the records at the Patent Office for the years 1881 and 1882 reveals the following entries:

08/16/81 Crichton & Curry Owl Jug 367237 BT 43/63 Glass
09/22/81 Crichton & Curry Walrus 37040 BT 43/50 Metal
10/01/81 Crichton & Curry Duck 370786 Class 1 BT 43/50 Metal
10/01/81 Crichton & Curry Drake 370787 Class 1 BT 43/50 Metal
11/04/81 S. Mordan & Co. Eagle 372729 BT 43/50 Metal
12/03/81 Crichton & Curry Parrot 374238 BT 43/50 Metal
12/22/81 W. Leuchers & Son Crow 375007 Class 1 BT 43/50 Metal
02/01/82 Henry Lewis Dodo 376601 BT 43 Metal
02/18/82 Henry Lewis Carp 377320 BR 43/51 Metal
03/07/82 Henry Lewis Otter 378062 Class 1 BT 43/51 Metal
03/11/82 Frederick Wich & Co. Bull 378199 BT 43/51 Metal
04/26/82 Crichton & Curry Penguin 379944 BT 43/51 Metal
09/05/82 Dove & Harvey Monkey 385935 BT 43/52 Metal
10/27/82 S. Mordan & Co. Pheasant 389007 BT 43/53 Metal
12/19/82 Crichton & Curry Cockatoo 391622 BT 43/53 Metal
12/28/82 Walter Thornhill & Co. Crocodile 392018 Class 1 BT 43/53 Metal (& Glass)

This list reveals a few points of interest. The first design registered, the owl, was entered in the glass category. All the subsequent designs were entered under metal with the exception of the Crocodile #823, the last entry, which was registered for both metal and glass. One might deduce from this, that perhaps the designers felt the features expressed through the metal were the key to protecting the artistic nature of the model.

Another intriguing mystery are the entries by Henry Lewis. All the animals retailed by Lewis were made and presumably designed by Crichton. So why were the designs for the Dodo, the Carp and the Otter patented by the retailer? Perhaps the shrewd Mr. Lewis already had a premonition that Crichton would not survive for long.

Finally, the list shows quite clearly how competitive the retail environment must have been between the leading London shops. Within three months of a good idea coming to the market, the competition was registering their own animals. In fact the fashion spread quite rapidly to the continent and within a year or so cheap imports from the Bohemian glass factories with silver-plated mounts were widely available. The fad went even as far as Russia where Nichols & Plinke produced a striking Ram's head mounted jug.






Retailers went to great lengths to differentiate and enhance their merchandise. The Crichton cockatoo of 1882, #824 is decorated with enamel paint to further increase the realism of the object. Sometimes the glass was finely engraved to simulate feathers or skin such as the Crichton duck of 1882 #821, the Fenton Brothers crow #615, the Crichton otter with the acid etched frosted glass body #605 or perhaps most dramatic the 1884 crocodile by Sampson Mordan #823. Similarly, the Crichton carp of 1881 #825 has fish scales realistically cut into the glass body. This particular example may be missing a silver handle in the form of an eel, clearly shown on the registration drawing, twisted from the tail of the carp to its head, locked in mortal combat.






As fast and as furious as this fashion grew, it disappeared, at least for the high quality silver mounted jugs made in England. By 1884, the Crichton & Curry partnership was dissolved and by 1886 Alexander Crichton declared bankruptcy, perhaps one of the many victims of the harsh recession that engulfed England in the mid 1880s. Certainly Crichton's demise marked the end of the brief fashion for the animal jugs. A few manufacturers continued to make the occasional piece, such as Frederick Elkington with a drake from Crichton's molds dated 1892 #822 and Richard Hodd who continued to produce the Monkey through the turn of the century #616. During the first 20 years of the 20th century, Asprey revived the Cockatoo design.

In some ways, the animal jugs marked a new relationship between the glass manufacturer and the silversmith. They combined their skills and with the evolution of new techniques, particularly with molded glass, produced an object that was not complete until the two crafts were combined. Previously each craft was able to manufacture similar items drawing on skills exclusive to their own craft. The silversmith could engrave, emboss or chase on a solid silver body, while the glass blower could substitute silver mounts and handles with glass ones. With the animals it was different. A solid silver Otter by Crichton recently on the market, one of the few solid silver animal jugs known from this period, does not have the same effect as the one combining glass with silver. Perhaps it is the fragility of the glass that reinforces the refreshing naivety of the object.

Certainly the fragility of these jugs explains in large part their scarcity today. Few have survived. When looking through past auction catalogues and advertisements placed by dealers over the years in various magazines, one gets the impression that to a large extent it may be the same few old friends surfacing every now and again.

One of the problems in studying the evolution of claret jugs in the 19th century is that the different styles and designs do not fit into convenient time periods. For example, the copper wheel engraved jugs, previously mentioned earlier, that start appearing in the mid 1850s, continued to be made well into the 1880s #585, #613. To complicate matters further, different schools of design, sometimes completely juxtaposed, developed alongside each other. Consider the early 1880s. Alongside the animals were the delicately carved cameo paste glasses from the Webb workshop #720 & #721, the fantastic realistic "rocaille' mounts by Edward Stockwell #878 and the revolutionary simplicity of Christopher Dresser's designs #835.






By the 1890s, the fashion and demand for the finest claret jugs had accelerated in most of Europe as well as Russia and America. In France, the Daum glassworks in Nancy were creating two and three colored glass bodies for silver mounts and supplying not only local silversmiths #851 & #860 but also exporting to American Manufacturer Gorham #728 & #750) who were also designing their own jugs (#607). This cross border fertilization was certainly helped by the increasing number of international exhibitions, where craftsmen of every conceivable luxury from furniture, to textiles, to wrought iron competed to provide a seemingly insatiable market for ever more extraordinary objects. The leading manufacturers and retailers reserved their best output for these shows, often creating oversized jugs that in all probability could never be used. For instance the pair of Christophle jugs from France (#601) or the pair of Ovchennikov jugs from Russia (#602), can hardly be raised when filled. The outstanding jewel-like jug by Gorham (#892) made for the Chicago Exposition in 1893 was certainly far too delicate, with its finely enameled panels, to be meant for use. These were decorative objects, meant to dazzle and amaze.






Meanwhile in England, the close of the century saw the growing popularity of glass cut in the manner of rock crystal, with the leading engraver of the period probably being William Orchard who worked for Stevens and Williams (#733) and whose work was also exported to Tiffany in America (#604) where locally manufactured brilliant cut crystal was at its peak of popularity. Perhaps the finest American example of this period is the Tiffany claret jug designed by Paulding Farnham in 1904 (#715), which is inspired from the renaissance period during which rock crystal objects mounted in gold, silver and precious gems were very sought after.

jug 892

In Russia, silver mounted claret jugs had become very popular and many leading workshops were almost mass producing jugs, most with relatively standard hobnail cut glass (#596), although occasionally the Faberge workshop produced an exceptional design (#867).

The early twentieth century saw a gradual decline in the designing of silver mounted claret jugs. Of course standard designs were still being produced, but outstanding design from the arts and craft movement or the art deco movement that followed were few and far between. From Charles Ashbee there is the Guild of Handicraft jug of 1903 (#852), the unusual silver mounted ceramic jug by Bernard Moore of 1907 (#831) or the Ramsden and Carr jug of 1918 (#849), but by and large, these are isolated highlights in a fading market. As Europe decimated itself in the 1914-18 war, so did a certain lifestyle and the accessories that came with it.



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