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Planning Retirement Online

Family Treasures

Family Treasures

Jill Churchill, who writes on antiques and collectables for YOURS magazine, begins a new series  

If you decide to bring out great-grandfather’s favourite container for the port or sherry to toast in the New Year, it’s worth handling that decanter with care - and the same goes for his old wine glasses.  

Check for quality

Run your finger over any decoration or engraving: generally the sharper it feels, the better the cut, and the more money it will fetch. Very few pieces of glassware have maker’s marks, alas, but examine just in case: if you see the name of an engraver called August Bohm you could be looking at about 4,500. 

Check for shape

  • A tall and tapered decanter is likely to be early 18th century. If it has a modest amount of engraving, it could be worth 500.

  • A squat or rounded decanter with more elaborate engraving and a shorter neck with moulded rings may be later 18th century, when great glassware really came into its own - 900 plus at auction. 

  • The earliest wineglasses were plain, heavy, known as baluster shape - conical with a knop (knobbly bit on the stem to you and me). A good 17th century one can fetch 3,000.

  • If your old wine glass is more delicate it was probably made after 1745 when a huge tax was imposed on glassmakers and they were forced to reduce the weight of their wares. The best 18th century ones have tall ‘air twists’ -  spirals of air bubbles - in the stems. These air twists can be clear or white, or more, rarely, coloured.

  • From around 1780 the stem of a wineglass is likely to be faceted. Early 20th century copies will be heavier and the base thinner and flatter. The real thing can fetch 150 and a well-placed knop can push the value up to 500.

Check for colour

  • Blue ‘Bristol’ glassware  can mean real treasure especially when decorated with gilding and lettering. Two hundred years ago blue decanters  were often made as trios: for gin (labelled HOLLANDS), brandy and rum. If you’ve a full set - get advice*.

  • A single good English or Scottish blue glass decanter (no, they weren’t all made in Bristol) can be worth anything from 200 to 2,000; and sets are worth more than triple. 

  • Coloured wine glasses may also be more than 200 years old. Before 1840 they’re likely to be green, worth 80-100. Blue and amethyst are rarer - collectors pay as much as 400 for early examples. 

  • If your wineglass is thin, highly coloured and gilded it probably arrived from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) during the 19th century - it was all the rage with the Victorians. Early pieces can still command good three-figure sums.  Red, blue or green, the colour was laid on top of clear glass, then cut away to show engraving. But by 1845 the glass tax was repealed and colour became much more common, particularly the ruby colour: a so-called cranberry wine glass in worth 25-50.

Check the details

  • A good decanter had its stopper made individually. If loose or wobbly it’s a replacement and the value goes down. 

  • The base of an old decanter should have signs of wear underneath. Too heavy to lift when full, it was slid along the wooden table from one merrymaker to the next. Similarly, old, heavy wineglasses have scarring on the base from being thumped down during toast-making. Cheers!

* Getting advice is easiest if you are near a reputable auction house or specialist dealer. Check Yellow Pages (best auctioneers have SOFAA after the name) then ring to make an appointment to take a piece for a free over-the-counter valuation.


January 2004


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