Tantalus (cabinet)

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Closed, with the alcohol secure.
Open, with the decanters accessible
A three-decanter Tantalus

A Tantalus is a small wooden cabinet containing two or three decanters. Its defining feature is that it has a lock and key. The aim of that is to stop unauthorised people drinking the contents (in particular, "servants and younger sons getting at the whisky"),[1] while still allowing them to be on show. The name is a reference to the unsatisfied temptations of the Greek mythological character Tantalus.

The original patent in 1881 (UK Patent 58948) was by George Betjemann, a cabinet maker from the Netherlands. Betjemann & Sons had workshops at 34–42 Pentonville Road, London from the 1830s.[2]

Very few Betjemann examples survive in complete condition; those that do are generally sold at auction for sums in the thousands of US dollars.[3] Original Betjemann articles should have brass or silver plate stamps signifying their authenticity. Later models, in completely different styles, were also called "The Betjemann Tantalus"[1] even though no cabinetry was present and they were not made at the Pentonville works.

Betjemann was the grandfather of the poet John Betjeman, who in Summoned by Bells called it the source of the family fortune.[4]


  1. ^ a b "Pullman, the Magazine of the Pullman Gallery" (PDF). pullmangallery.com (Press release). 31 December 2008. p. 5. Retrieved 28 February 2014.[unreliable source?]
  2. ^ "Survey of London: volume 47: Northern Clerkenwell and Pentonville". English Heritage. 2008. pp. 339&ndash, 372. Retrieved 28 February 2014.
  3. ^ "Antique Betjemann Tantalus". en.wikicollecting.org. 17 May 2012. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  4. ^ Betjeman, John (1960). Summoned By Bells. John Murray. p. 10. And stockrooms heavy with the Tantalus/ on which the family fortune had been made