Monday, September 29, 2014

Arcane Dining Oddities: The Wine Rinser

The grand spectacle of the formal dinner party has, sadly, waned over the years.  As a result, many of the items that were once commonplace at the finest of tables during the late 18th and early 19th centuries are now considered arcane oddities.  Take, for example, the wine rinser.

Chronica Domus
A pair of English Regency glass wine rinsers demonstrating how they would have been used to rinse one's wine glass between courses
Photo: Chronica Domus


Wine rinsers, or wine coolers as they were sometimes called, would be used to rinse one's wine glass between the various wine courses of an elaborate dinner.  The rinsers would be conveniently placed within easy reach of every diner, and partially filled with the coldest water available to facilitate in the task of rinsing or cooling one's glass. The wine glass would be inverted into the water so that the stem could easily rest upon either of the two lips flanking the rim, as demonstrated in the photograph above. The diner would then gently swirl the foot of the wine glass to rinse it. If the glass was to be cooled in preparation for the next wine, it would remain in the water until it was time to imbibe.

Often these vessels, particularly during the English Regency period, would be decorated with a fluted comb cut design, adding to the  reflective qualities of the glass. Can you imagine the arresting sight of a dining room illuminated by candlelight with all that dazzling glass sparkling and twinkling on the table?  In the days before the conveniences that electricity affords today, the reflective quality of items such as drinking glasses or even looking glasses and their gilded frames, was an important aspect to consider in the landscape of the dining room.

The two English Regency era wine rinsers shown in the above photograph are part of a set of four that I purchased many years ago in London from a gentleman glass dealer named Tony, and from whom I have since purchased other items. The rinsers were mouth blown and their pontils smoothly ground so as not to mar the surface of a dining table or snag on the host's tablecloth.

I recall Tony telling me that the rinsers were a popular item with the floral designer of the now-defunct Takashimaya department store in New York city.  He would regularly ship them to the store where they would be pressed into service as vases for Takashimaya's beguiling flower arrangements.

I must admit that although we do enjoy giving formal dinner parties at home, and setting our table with antique silver and china, we don't actually use the wine rinsers for their intended purpose. Instead, I use the rinsers much as Takashimaya's florist did and fill them with small, low arrangements to set upon our table and around the dining room.

Chronica Domus
Flowers arranged, a-la-Takashimaya, using a Regency glass wine rinser as a vase, one of four that I made for a dinner party held earlier in the year
Photo: Chronica Domus


Recently, I came across another rinser to add to my collection.  I almost fainted when I spotted it sitting among the dross of a local thrift store for an unspeakably low price.  I don't think anyone would have recognized what it was that was about to be wrapped up and taken home with me.  I was chuffed to bits to say the least.  I believe the rinser is of English origin and is slightly younger in age than the Regency examples in my collection.  The polished pontil is again in evidence, as is the slightly grey tone of the glass. The simple slice cut design would lead me to believe that it dates to around 1830 and made during William IV's reign.  Here it is:

Chronica Domus
My new old glass wine rinser that I would guess dates from around 1830
Photo: Chronica Domus


Wine rinsers were not only made of clear glass but also of colored glass.  These were of course much more costly to produce and therefore rarer to find today.  President George Washington and his wife Martha utilized a set of cobalt blue wine rinsers in their green dining room to good effect at Mount Vernon.  Below is a photograph surreptitiously snapped during my visit a few years ago showing the rinsers in situ.  I have also seen rinsers in amethyst, green, and even a deep ruby color.

Chronica Domus
Mount Vernon's principal dining room set for dinner with cobalt glass wine rinsers
Photo: Chronica Domus


Perhaps if I amass a few more of these beautiful glass vessels, I could use them for dessert and scoop ice cream into them, or perhaps even a cold fruit soup.

Do you own and use any arcane dining oddities, and what would you do with these pretty glass wine rinsers?

13 comments:

  1. Good morning, CD.

    Your English Regency rinsers are beautiful! We don't have any arcane dining oddities, but we do have some vintage items that are unusual. I have several glass baking dishes in the shape of crab shells that I got from my grandmother. They were specifically made for cooking crab imperial or deviled crab.

    I also have two very old terracotta Mexican oyster broilers. They look sort of like submarines. One places coal on the inside and the oysters go on top.

    Speaking of Takashimaya, we have a large, very beautiful antique ikebana basket my husband bought there many years ago.

    J.W.

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    1. I think your oyster broiler and crab shell baking dishes qualify as arcane dining oddities, at least to me they do, having never seen or heard of such things. I do have several Paris Porcelain shell-shaped dishes that I've often wondered what would have been served on them. Certainly, some type of seafood don't you agree?

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  2. These wine rinsers are marvelous, appealing in shape, material and decoration. I would appreciate them just as a collection, without having to put them to any special use, except perhaps as an occasional flower vase.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim, the rinsers are certainly marvelous, but the trouble with such appealing objects is where to store them. I've a weakness for Regency glass and I'm just about out of storage space. I almost thought twice about bringing home the thrift store rinser, at least for a fraction of a second that is.

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  3. Oh my, I have entertained all of my adult life and sometimes formally and I have never, even in my etiquette books seen mention of rinsers. What a lovely piece of glass and how fun to have collected the lot of 5. Like you, I refrain from collecting any more pieces, I've run out of room. I do still love to entertain in our home but I do it quite a bit more casually. The table is set with glass instead of crystal and the dishes are often one of several sets of pottery I own. To me, home dinners with good friends is a treat I can't imagine giving up.
    P.S. If I came across one of these at a good price, I'd be tempted!
    Karen

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    1. Hello Karen,

      I believe these rinsers have been relegated to obscurity for the fact that we can now chill our white wines through refrigeration, and that most hosts now provide their guests with an extra glass for either red or white wine and/or water.

      Like you, dinners at home with good friends, good food and wine, and excellent conversation are a real pleasure that I relish whenever the opportunity arises.

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  4. Love the rinsers and info about them, as I've not been aware of them. I collect EAPG spooners and celery glasses and use them for their intended purpose as well as for candles, flowers, breadsticks and the like. I also collect silver sugar scuttles and shakers...the scuttles work for nuts and candies - the shakers for seeds and various spices...and they look lovely gracing the sideboard. :)

    Ann

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    1. Hello Ann, and thank you for your comment. It sounds as though you have a wonderful collection of arcane dining oddities that you've put to good use, which is essential for us collectors, if we are to make sense of it all. I love the idea of the sugar scuttles being used for nuts and candies, and the shakers for seeds. Very clever indeed!

      I have a footed English celery glass and a blown apothecary jar that I've used to hold breadsticks and home-made cheese straws, which makes using these items so much more fun.

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  5. This very nice comment went straight to my email box so I am publishing it here in the comments section in case any of my readers are interested in visiting the museum mentioned or finding out about asparagus servers, which are indeed an arcane dining oddity (still very useful though!). Thank you Karen

    Dear Chronica,

    I am not sure if these ornate silver tongs qualify as "arcane", but I found them on EBay and just love them. They were listed as asparagus servers. However, asparagus season is short here in Boston so I have used them to serve string beans, bacon (at brunch), and even tea sandwiches. Dining has become so informal these days but beautiful serving pieces add such elegance and at the very least, generate conversation.

    Your wine rinsers are delightful and completely unfamiliar. Some years ago I was a docent at the Chrysler Museum (Norfolk, VA). It has one of the three most extensive glass collections in the country and is well worth a visit should you ever find yourself in Tidewater Virginia.

    Thank you for your most edifying and gracious blog.

    Regards,
    Karen


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  6. I saw this post when it first appeared and meant to comment but something always distracted me until now. These are marvelous...I have seen them before, having been a serious wine collector for many years, but never added them to my assortment of accoutrements. Things like these are always fun to have at a dinner table to break the ice when guest first sit down at the table. When used for their original purpose they also save the need for multiple glasses to wash at the end of the night, so those Victorians weren't that silly after all!

    You could also use them as mini ice buckets when you are serving drinks for just two or three of you in a tray. I envy you!

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    1. Gosh, it never crossed my mind to use these as little ice buckets. What a great idea, thank you.

      I could never be a serious wine collector as I would want to drink the stuff too quickly. However, having the right wine for just the right menu and occasion truly enhances the entire dining experience. You must have had great willpower to wait for the right moment to uncork a fine wine. We have a little wine cellar in our basement that we keep pretty well stocked, and living close to wine country makes that easy.

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  7. I'd not heard of these before. I presume each guest at table would have their own, which would mean that the table settings would get rather crowded, what with several different glasses for each guest and a rinser, and all the other glorious palava required for a regency dinner party. If one had only found a single rinser it would make a nice little ice bucket for a drinks trolley.

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    1. Ah, but that is the beauty of these rinsers, Lord Cowell. They actually eliminate the need for more than one wine glass per diner. A rinser would be provided at each place setting for the purpose of rinsing one's glass, giving the table an uncluttered appearance.

      I really do like the idea of using them for ice, as was first suggested by Lindaraxa in her comment.

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