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Oh! Oh! --nologie! The Antiques of the Noble Grape

Wine-related antiques,by Jack Fritsch

Today's post is provided to us by Jack Fritsch, partner in the Antiques Depot on Easy Street, and taken from his blog NantucketAntiquesDepot.com.


In the blogs ahead we'll explore a variety of antiques and related topics. We'll look at the history behind many fascinating objects and try to get a handle on their connoisseurship. We'll warn you of some of the perils and pitfalls of the antiques business, as well as sharing some of the delights. We will observe and comment on noteworthy events throughout the world of antiques. We'll on occasion also discuss some important appraisal concerns. For the most part we will be just ruminating and reminiscing about the world of antiques, as we see it from here on the waterfront in Nantucket.

Today let’s take a look at wine related antiques which have become especially popular in recent years. They appeal not only to people who have become increasingly knowledgeable and passionate about wines, but also to such diverse tastes as those inclined towards elegant dining room accessories, specialized tools, a country feel or a sophisticated international flair in art and decor. Visitors to our shop may be looking for just a few wine accent pieces for their home, or another prize to add to their growing collection, or quite often just one special article to give as a house-warming or thank-you gift. Wine related antiques pair very well indeed with a variety of tastes and purposes, and there are examples to fit every budget.

 The most popular wine collectible is corkscrews. The earliest wine bottles date from the early 17th Century, sealed with wooden pegs or pottery balls. Corks first appeared in Spain during the middle of the 18th Century and quickly became ubiquitous. Corkscrews appeared immediately of course, and the first patent for a specialized corkscrew was granted in England to Reverend Samuel Henshall in 1795. The race was on and we find an explosion of clever designs and styles throughout the 19th Century (and showing no signs of abating even today).

We always have some Henshall-type antique corkscrews on hand at the Antiques Depot, especially ones with turned bone handles. Early corkscrews from the 18th Century are quite scarce but we usually manage to have some in our collection. Varying mechanisms invented during the 19th Century include straight pulls, rack and pinions, double-action screws, self-pulling, lever, concertina and more. Styles range from small portable pocket corkscrews, sturdy cellarmans, mechanical, cages, barrels, multi-tool and waiter’s friends, souvenirs, figurals and novelties. All are enticing to the collector, the more unusual or rare the better. Any with identifying marks of the maker or sponsor are prized, and of course a premium is placed on those in fine original condition in good working order.

Collectors also seek other antiques related to the consumption and appreciation of wine. Silver or plated coasters for bottles, especially those with turned hardwood bases, are both attractive and functional: those claret drips clean so much easier off mahogany than your linen tablecloth. Tasting tables, cellarettes and wine coolers are specialized furniture forms from the 18th and 19th Centuries that remain attractive, multifunctional and practical in the modern home. Table-top bottle holders and coolers (ice buckets) remain extremely usable, and so much more elegant and individually distinctive than modern mass-produced examples.

Early decanters, neck labels of silver or porcelain, decanting funnels and toddy ladles are all eagerly sought and collected. Tastevins, those petite demi-cups used by sommeliers for tasting or sampling wine, are very decorative and were made in an endless variety, offering the collector nearly as much to choose from as with corkscrews. Vintage wine glasses themselves are avidly sought and can be quite expensive. Earlier glasses from the 18th and 19th Centuries can be gorgeous in shape and texture, but are generally too small for the modern taste.

There are also many fascinating articles associated with the production of wine as well. The actual hand tools used in viniculture make for an unusual and brilliant looking collection displayed in a cluster on a wall. The dimensional forms of secateurs, cisailles, ciseaux and couteau pour la greffe grab the attention and imagination and make quite a statement. And there is nothing like rich topsoil, vine sap, grape juice and sunshine to build an amazing patina!

Early hand blown onion-shaped and square case bottles from the 17th and 18th Centuries are very attractive and are often used for making lamps. The more modern cylindrical binning bottles (first appearing in the second half of the 18th Century) are difficult to find with their identifying labels still intact. Such vintage wine bottles from the late 19th or early 20th Centuries are very desirable decorative accents that can be surprisingly valuable. Other sought-after accoutrements include measures, corking devices and specialized instruments, such as hydrometers, for testing wines and measuring volumes and barrels.

Artists have enjoyed a long love affair with the culture and vision of wine. A collector with perseverance and luck will find appealing still life or genre paintings focused on wine. Given the warm association of wine with meals or celebrations shared with family or friends, or quiet emotions shared with a lover, it is surprising that artists don’t spend more time musing on wine. In addition to paintings, one may also find original vintage wine advertising posters or the occasional cask label, all very intriguing, beguiling and beautiful.

Here’s to lifting a glass to a truly fascinating specialty within the world of antiques. Salut!


Antiques Depot, 14 Easy Street, Nantucket 02554  Hours:  Daily, 10am - 4pm  Tel:  508-228-1287