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Wine Advisor Express:
Wine Link: Claret jugs

Before we begin today's excursion down one of the less-traveled byways of wine, we had better start with a definition: What IS a claret jug?

To get a picture in your mind, think of a decorative decanter, often fashioned in the shape of an animal or whimsical object. Add a handle and a sculptured lid or cover made of silver, gold or other precious metal. Now you've got a claret jug, a collectible wine accessory that was popular in Britain during most of the Nineteenth Century.

Interested? You won't want to miss "The Kent Collection," an intriguing wine-accessory Website where Richard Kent displays an impressive collection of nearly 100 antique claret jugs on an extensive site that's full of background information, history and photos.

"The collection includes some of the finest silver-mounted glass claret jugs in the world," Kent says on the site, emphasizing that the presentation is non-commercial: "These jugs are not for sale."

One of the more interesting points about claret jugs is that they developed so relatively recently in history, Kent observed. The history of wine goes back at least 6,000 years, and potters and silversmiths have been creating artful containers for it for almost that long. Pottery was the standard for thousands of years, until the Middle Ages, when rich families turned to classy silver, brass and pewter pitchers to serve their wine. Hard glass vessels came along in the 1600s, and by the 18th century, Kent says, "wines were either served out of solid silver vessels or from glass decanters and bottles. Most households purchased wines in casks which were stored in the cellar, from which the head butler would decant into the chosen serving vessel prior to the meal."

Only in the early 19th century did glass manufacturing develop to the point that most wines could be packaged in uniform bottles at the winery. "This probably explains the sudden appearance of silver-mounted claret jugs from about 1830 onwards," Kent says. "As the use and storage of wine became easier, and as the industrial revolution produced a larger consumer class for finer living and drinking, so the demand and consumption of wine grew and with it the need for new conventions, customs and accessories."

The Kent Collection contains only jugs that are a combination of solid silver and glass. The Website makes it easy to browse, with jugs indexed by many criteria, including the year they were made (all are from 1835 to 1920); the country of origin (mostly English, French, Russian and American); the artist or maker (including such familiar names as Tiffany and Gorham and such less-familiar monikers as, well, The Fenton Brothers); and the type or style of the jug, in a wild variety of categories such as art deco, cut glass, gothic, novelty, and a number of jugs in the form of animals, from birds and a fish to monkeys and a couple of otters.

Kent is appropriately discreet about the value of his collection, which is privately held and displayed to the public only online; but you'll find quite a number of claret jugs on sale at eBay.com, currently ranging from $10 to $700; and a quick Web search reveals several British vendors offering collectible jugs online for prices ranging up to more than 5,000 pounds sterling.

The Kent Collection is well worth the time spent browsing. You'll find it at http://www.claretjugs.com/.

Administrivia
This is Wine Advisor Express, daily edition of The 30 Second Wine Advisor, distributed Tuesdays through Fridays. For archives of previous articles, and to read more about wine, visit Wine Lovers' Page, http://www.wineloverspage.com.

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Friday, Oct. 26, 2001
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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