Fred Researching Provenance of an antique

Fred Researching Provenance of an antique

By Dr. Fred Frye, MD 


As a collector of wines for the past 50 years I became interested in the various articles connected with the storing, tasting and display of wines.  I hope this brief article will stimulate others to join in a fascinating pastime that has been instructive and useful.  As in any collecting endeavor, the search is the best part.  Once you possess the item you are on to the next challenge.”  FF

In the last issue of Wine Tales my article addressed the items associated with the tasting of wine.  In this article I write about antiquities and a bit about their history in regard to the storing and serving of wine.


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1720 Hand Blown Dutch Bottle

 Before the advent of bottles wine was shipped in casks or barrels.  Then the wine was transported to a table by transferring to a decanter or a pitcher.  As wine service became more sophisticated more elaborate vessels were developed. 




Funnels are useful implements for transferring wine from larger vessels or bottles to a decanter.   In the 18th and 19th centuries wine was unfiltered and when stored had a great deal of sediment.



 When wine was moved from a barrel or pitcher to a decanter it was poured through a funnel.  Many of these funnels had perforated sieve-like arrangements that would catch the sediment and thus remove it from the decanter before the wine was poured into a glass.  Some have “muslin rings” that held a piece of fabric that would effectively strain the wine to remove the sediment.   During this process the wine became aerated and this changed the nose and taste of the wine. 







 Today when older bottles are decanted the wine will be equally aerated and the wide bottomed decanter of today exposes the wine to more air and makes it “open’ so that fuller flavors are enjoyed by the drinker.    Collecting older funnels is interesting because of the different styles and the different degrees of ornamentation.  The silversmiths who made them place their hallmark on each piece.  This will help date the piece accurately

 In recent years special aerating funnels have been developed that use a venturi effect to aerate the wines more rapidly.  Young wines poured through these new “inventions” are said to not only enhance the flavor but to “age the wine as well.




A vessel to store wine prior to pouring is an obvious evolution.  Decanters became very important in the 17th century as wines were consumed in the upper class homes.   Wine stored in casks were decanted through a funnel to the decanter and then served.  The funnels became important because of the ability to strain the sediment filled wines.    Wines produced the 17th, 18th and 19th century were often filled with sediment owing to the way wine was prepared and stored.  Filtering and fining were later developments in the winemakers preparation of his product.  


True antique decanters are difficult to find and are very expensive.  Modern decanters styled in the fashion of the older ones are good representations and easier to acquire.   It is always fun to present an old Port in an older decanter.  Newer decanters have very unusual designs.


 The purpose of all decanters is the same.  By pouring a wine from the bottle to a decanter the wine is aerated and will allow it to “open” so that the full flavors can be enjoyed.   At the same time, any sediment that has accumulated in the bottle will stay in the bottle.  There have been some elaborate decanting cradles developed that pour the wine very gently from the bottle to the decanter.   These are more for show and are not too practical.  However any good collector will probably want to have one.   

Decanter Trolleys

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A well set Victorian table would often include a Decanter Trolley.  This is a four wheeled cart that a bottle or decanter could be placed and then wheeled down the table to the assembled guests and allows them to pour their glass of Port or a dessert wine.  They are always fun to find and fulfilled a good function at any serious wine collector’s artifacts.

  Wine Coasters

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A table setting is always enhanced by a wine coaster that the bottle can be placed upon.  These are obviously very useful as the bottle does not have direct contact with the table and is set forth as something special   I think these coasters have been used for centuries.  They are an offshoot of the trivet that protected the table surface for hot dishes.   The bottle stands alone and is displayed for the guests to see.  It can catch drips and protect a table cloth.   When I started to collect wine items the coaster was the first I started to find.  They are all different and range in size from a half-bottle size to ones that hold magnum sized bottles.     Some are ornate and some are quite plain.  The silversmith’s hallmarks are present on those that a sterling.  Most are silver-plate.

Wine Labels

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Antique Wine Labels

Before the development of paper label affixed to the bottle of wine, the wine was identified by a wine label that was usually made of silver and hung around the neck of the bottle with a small chain.  It would be engraved with the type of wine being served.  It might say Madeira, Sherry, Hock, or Claret for example.    When a table was set the host could offer his guests a wine and they would know what was being offered.  When wines were poured into a decanter the contents would then be identified.  These labels were also used for early spirits as well.  So one might see Rye, Whisky, or Gin as an identifying label, indicating the contents of the holding container.   Often enameled tags were made.  These are carefully decorated and are quite beautiful. 

 Collecting wine antiques, for me,  continues to be part of learning more about wines, their development and how they are served.    Having these items as part of your table gives rise to many comments and friends can enjoy the wines and learn a bit about the history of wine and all that entails from vinification of the grapes to the consumption with a meal. 



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