Silver claret jug

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For the golf trophy, see Claret Jug.

A silver claret jug is a wine jug made of glass and silver for the so-called claret, which is a French Bordeaux wine.

Claret jugs were produced from about 1830 to 1920 and are nowadays very collectible. The majority were made of cut (sometimes frosted) glass. The silver mounted tops incorporated hinged lids, and handles that extended down halfway or to the base. The mounts were often engraved or chased, and the glass bodies were found in many different shapes and varying ornamentation. Some earlier examples were made entirely of silver. The level of craftsmanship and their aesthetic qualities determine their value. Unusual jugs, such as those made by Charles Edwards or Christopher Dresser, or examples with fine engraved scenes, may command high prices.

History[edit]

In the 18th century there flourished a wide production of silver mounted cruet stand bottles. They were sized from 15–18 cm, but no taller or larger bottle suitable to serve wine was manufactured. The first examples of "wine" bottles were made in the 1830s and among the first were those manufactured in London by Reilly & Storer.

Although glass was used for drinking vessels since the earliest times, only the 19th century saw the development of the claret jug. Silversmiths began "modifying" glass decanters used in the 18th century by adding simple bands of silver and replacing glass stoppers with silver hinged lids. In the second quarter of the century, silver handles and larger mounts were added, although in most cases the glass maintained a "bottle" shape and restrained design.

From the middle of the century, old rules were abandoned and claret jugs became one of the preferred methods for artists to display their skill on the production of fabulous and often bizarre designs. Claret Jugs were produced throughout Europe and, although France had a large production of fine silver and glass jugs, most of the diverse and often beautiful designs are of British manufacture.

British claret jugs have a wonderful glass body and perfect silver decorated mounting, as do the Russian pieces, especially those made by Gratchev or Fabergé. French manufacturers, perhaps as a consequence of the great tradition existing in wine production in their country, displayed creations characterized by highly functional shapes. The British silversmiths, less conditioned by the "culture" of wine, demonstrated broader creativity, stronger innovation and frivolous attitudes in their manufacture.

Since the 1850s, many of the leading British manufacturers were producing fabulous hand engraved glass bodies. As many of their factories were located in the north of the country, the majority of their silver mounts were hallmarked in Birmingham and Sheffield assay offices. As the European Grand Tour was in great fashion among the wealthy minority, the demand for more fanciful models grew and designers researched their inspiration in the styles found in Europe; from geometric Grecian patterns to classical scenes in the Romantic style of contemporary French painters.

By the third quarter of the century, jugs of the most bizarre form were in great fashion and in many cases the glass bore little resemblance to the early "bottles". The mounts were often chased in perfect symmetry to the glass. Curiously, this was also the period characterized by some of the most delicate items and several prominent silversmiths created rare and unusual jugs in naturalistic form. Flowers, such as roses, crocuses and water lilies, were copied perfectly to silver mounts and glass decoration which then were assembled to perfection. From 1875 the forerunners of the Art Nouveau period were experimenting with the re-discovered Japanese art and the Aesthetic period became hugely popular. In Germany and Austria the Art Nouveau period lead to the production of claret jugs with wonderfully decorated glass body but also, and often, to plain body artifacts.

For artists, claret jugs became a medium to reproduce the delicate forms used for centuries in the Far East. Butterflies, birds, plants, and flowers became a common engraving, often with the addition of other small subjects in Japanese taste (a delicately engraved fan was often added amidst birds and foliage). The 1880s saw the start of the manufacture of the rarest jugs even produced, in the form of animals, birds and fishes. These were made in very limited quantity and by few silversmiths, presumably because they required the highest craftsmanship for their manufacture. The most stunning of these forms had the glass realistically cut and engraved to simulate the texture of the model in minute and intricate details (feathers of a duck or the hair of a monkey). Many unusual, unconventional and extravagant examples are in the collection of Richard Kent.

At the end of the 19th century the production of these beautiful objects ceased for a variety of reasons. The vivacious market of exotic Victoriana was replaced by the austerity of the Edwardian period, and this, coupled with the high cost of producing fine glassware, marked the end of 75 years of fine design and beauty. From the 1920s no more remarkable claret jugs were produced.

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