The Decanter, An Illustrated History

This talk places the decanter within glassmaking history, charting its stylistic evolution and the life & times of its users.

The decanter occupies a unique position in glass history. Though its name was not coined until around 1700, it was the fount of wine drinking for 2000 years, and it remained the principal vessel in the British table-glass repertoire between 1770-1970.

1745-50-White-Wine-shoulder 1750-English-Jacobite-Decanter 1765-70-Club-Decanter

1745-70. Three English mid/late 18th century decanters.

The subject is rich and the talk examines the decanter’s ancient antecedents, the development of the robust ‘English bottle’ [from the 1650s]; Ravenscroft’s perfected formula for lead crystal [1676]; the earliest decanters, and 18th century drinking and dining rituals, both in taverns and the Great Houses.


1899. Amber globular decanter with a silver-mount sporting an ivory netsuke monkey. Designed: Harry Powell for Whitefriars, London. [Miles Hoole].

During the Georgian and Victorian eras the decanter enjoyed pre-eminence as the iconic centrepiece of British drinking and dining. However, when Britain’s wine consumption fell to a historic low in the 1950s & 60s, the decanter got lost in the shuffle. In the absence of wine, they were filled with the nation’s then-favourite tipple, sherry, and the bond was broken.

The fact that decanting improves the flavour of most wines is widely accepted, and British wine consumption has now rebounded to historic levels. And yet it is decanted in probably less than 1% of homes.


1927. Amber Marienthal decanter with sculpted stopper. Designed: René Lalique, Paris.

Is the decanter finished: a redundant relic of a bygone age? Do only former officers in the Bengal Lancers still decant wine?

No! That’s the resounding answer, and this talk has proved a popular catalyst in encouraging those who attend it to dust off their examples and, wait for it…actually use them!

1990s. Trojan Carriage decanter sculpture. Designed: Markku Salo for Nuutäjarvi, Finland. [Bukowski, Helsinki].