Date Made/Found: 1810-1830
Material and Medium: Old Sheffield Plate, silver, wood, baize
Dimensions: Overall: 48mm (1 7/8in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: L1943.515
This object is a wine coaster (also known as a bottle or decanter slide/stand). It is made from Old Sheffield Plate with a silver border. The base is made from turned wood.
The coaster is circular in shape and has fluted sides. This gives the sides of the coaster (known as the gallery) a rounded, corrugated effect. The patterns of wine coasters often followed those used for smaller objects, such as mustards and salts.
Old Sheffield Plate was invented around 1742 by Thomas Boulsover of Sheffield. It is a type of plated metal made by fusing a thin layer of silver onto a copper ingot. It was then rolled out into sheets and used to make decorative objects that looked like silver but were much cheaper. It proved to be extremely popular with consumers.
One problem with Old Sheffield Plate was that the silver would wear away in places, revealing the underlying copper. This could happen as a result of regular use and cleaning. The pinkish copper can be clearly seen on the fluted sides of this wine coaster. When electroplating was introduced in the 1840s, Old Sheffield Plate was no longer a viable product and soon stopped being produced.
Wine coasters became a popular part of wine equipment from about 1760. They were used to hold decanters or bottles of wine and prevented the table from being stained by drips of wine. Coasters had a baize lined base to protect the surface of the table from scratching when the bottle was 'coasted' along the polished surface between guests at the end of a meal, after the tablecloth had been removed.
In her 1861 publication, 'The Book of Household Management', Mrs Beeton describes the usual practice of serving and drinking wine at dinner at around the time this wine coaster was made:
"It is not usual, where taking wine is en règle, for a gentleman to ask a lady to take wine until the fish or soup is finished, and then the gentleman honoured by sitting on the right of the hostess, may politely inquire if she will do him the honour of taking wine with him. This will act as a signal to the rest of the company, the gentleman of the house most probably requesting the same pleasure of the ladies at his right and left. At many tables, however, the custom or fashion of drinking wine in this manner, is abolished, and the servant fills the glasses of the guests with the various wines suited to the course which is in progress".
Wine coasters were made in a wide variety of shapes during the 1800s, to accommodate the large range of wine bottles and decanters available to the wealthy. In addition to expensive silver and gilt coasters, more affordable alternatives were available in wood, papier-mâché, pewter, paktong (an alloy resembling silver) and Old Sheffield Plate.