|A handsome early cut-glass wine decanter|
fits perfectly within the well of the coaster,
and looks far better than a mere wine bottle,
no matter how lofty the vineyard
The coasters we found are rather large, measuring six inches across, with a silver galley standing two inches high. The galley is pierced in a manner suggesting the Gothick taste.
When we found the coasters they were a bit the worse for wear. The galleys were bent and/or dented in several places, and the wood of the bases had lost its finish and was dried out, and bleached from having been submerged in soapy hot water many times over the years. They had lost their protective felt backings, too.
|Our Ball, Black & Co. wine coasters in "as found" condition|
We were attracted to the coasters because we found them handsome and admired their substantial scale. We have collected antique coasters over the years, primarily papier-mâché ones, but we did not have any period silver and wood wine coasters in our collection, only modern reproductions. We were confident that the coasters we found would once again look their best once they were attended to by a specialist we know of in Manhattan who could refurbish them appropriately.
|An 1864 newspaper advertisement for|
Ball, Black & Co.
Image courtesy of the Silver Forum
The coasters are marked "Ball, Black & Co." and also "STERLING." Ball, Black & Company was a high-end retailer of jewelry, silver, and objet de vertu in New York City from 1851 until 1874, when it was reorganized as Black, Starr & Frost. In its day Ball, Black & Co. was more prestigious than Tiffany & Company, which is the closest comparable today.
|The former Ball, Black & Co. building today|
Image courtesy of realworldhouses
Until 1860, Ball, Black & Co. marked its silver "950," which is a particularly high content of pure silver, and higher than the 925 amount (meaning that 92.5% of the metal is pure silver and 7.5% of it is an alloy) required to be marked "sterling." In 1860 Ball, Black & Co. began marking its silver as "sterling," as our coasters are marked. Consequently, I date our coasters as having been made anywhere between 1860 and 1874.
|Even a simple blown-glass decanter is preferable|
to place in one's coaster than a wine bottle
Many people today don't know that wine coasters were not originally intended to be used to hold bottles of wine, but rather carafes or decanters of wine. Until fairly recently, it was common practice to decant one's wine from a bottle into a carafe or decanter. Doing so promoted the aeration of the wine and also allowed for leaving sediment behind in the bottle, to be discarded. Now that modern wine making techniques have largely done away with sediment in bottles, relatively few people decant their wine anymore.
Except we do, of course.
Over the years we have collected a handsome array of decanters and carafes that we use to pour wine at table. They range from very basic, simple blown-glass ones to elaborate cut-crystal ones. Their bases are larger than a typical wine bottle's, and they fit comfortably in the period wine coasters that we have in our collection.
|Our Ball, Black & Co. wine coasters after refurbishment|
It is far more pleasing to use a pretty decanter to pour one's wine at table than to pour it from a bottle, and it is most appealing when said decanter stands within a handsome coaster when it is not being used to administer one's wine glass.
And that's how we do it at Darlington House.
All photographs, except where noted, by Boy Fenwick