Curiosities of Regency Glass

During my career as a museum curator, I came across some rather unique English glass forms. The manufacture of some of these glass types pre-dates the Regency, but a large number of these vessels would still have been in circulation during those years, and any one of them would make an interesting prop for a scene in a Regency romance. As I have mentioned in other articles here, objects made before the Regency could easily appear in an historically accurate novel set during that decade. But objects made after that time would appear in a novel with a Regency setting only if the author had failed to do their research.

If one day you come across mention of a toddy lifter, a coaching glass, a celery vase or a yard of ale when you are reading an historical novel, you will now have some idea of how these curiosities of glass looked, and the purposes to which they might be put.

The boot glass was a large glass made in the shape of a high-top jack boot, from the second half of the eighteenth century into the early years of the nineteenth century. These glasses were blown rather than molded, so the surface was thin and clear, never cut, though there were a few which might be etched. Some of these glasses could be as much as 12 inches high, with a hollow toe and a flat bottom. It is suggested by one scholar that they were popular with hunting men as an emblem of their sport. It is believed the large ones were used for shared libations before or after a fox hunt. Such glasses were also made in Holland and the German states, where they are now a common glass from which to drink beer.

The celery vase was a vessel made to display celery on an elegant dining table. Celery was from the Mediterranean basin, and was domesticated by the Italians in the seventeenth century. In the colder climate of England, it was most commonly grown in a greenhouse. Until the repeal of the Glass Excise Tax in 1845, only the very wealthy could afford a greenhouse. Therefore, celery was considered a status food and special vases were created to display it at meals. The celery vase was tall in relation to its width, and the brim was wider than the base, which typically had a short footed stem. The celery stalks would be cleaned and stood upright in the vase, which was then filled with ice water. The manufacture of celery vases began in the second half of the eighteenth century and continued until the early years of the twentieth century. Those made during the Regency were typically of cut or engraved glass.

Coaching glasses, fuddling glasses and stirrup cups are all types of stemmed drinking glasses which have no feet. Each was used in a particular venue.

Coaching glasses were first produced in the last decades of the eighteenth century. As the name suggests, they were used at coaching houses. By this time, stage-coaches, especially the Mail coaches, had begun to run with significantly increased speed and efficiency. The changing of horses had been refined to an exact science and was typically accomplished within three to five minutes. With such short stopping times, it was impossible for the passengers to have time to take advantage of the inn’s bar. Innkeepers, not wishing to loose this custom, sent beverages out to the coach. Coaching glasses were brought out on a large tray, brim down, since these glasses did not have a foot, only a glass knob or ball at the base of the stem. The glasses where they were handed around to the passengers wishing to partake. They held them while they were filled by the waiter, drank down the beverage, then placed them back on the tray again, brim down. Without a foot, the glass could not be set down, thus increasing the likelihood it would be returned after its contents were consumed. Glasses of this type were made into the first decades of the nineteenth century. Those made during the Regency were typically of faceted with cut glass designs.

Fuddling glasses were very similar in shape to coaching glasses, having a stem but no foot. However they were somewhat smaller and were typically used indoors as a novelty glass for a quick dram. Just like a coaching glass, they could not be set down until their contents had been drained.

Stirrup cups had been made since the late seventeenth century, though at that time they were fashioned of silver. They began to be made of glass in the second or third decade of the eighteenth century. These glasses were typically blown, rather than molded and were made in the shape of a trumpet or funnel, having a thick stem with a rounded base. Tradition says these glasses were used to offer huntsmen their final refreshment at a lawn meet before they took the field in pursuit of the fox. This was particularly desired by riders who, in the winter, often met near first light for a day in the saddle. In some cases, these last bracing libations were brought to the gentlemen by their ladies, if those ladies were not riding to hounds themselves. It was accepted that those gentlemen would be forgiven for stealing a chaste kiss from said lady when he returned his stirrup cup. By the nineteenth century, stirrup cups began to be made in shapes similar to coaching glasses, with a knob at the end of the stem, rather than the simple rounded base of the previous century.

Rolling pins were made of glass beginning in the 1790s, and continued to be produced into the middle of the nineteenth century. Most of them were approximately a foot long, with knobs at each end. It is believed that few of these glass novelties were actually used, and that most of them were hung on a wall or otherwise displayed as an ornament. In many cases, a cord was tied around each of the knobs for hanging. Though most of these rolling pins were plain, a number have survived with decoration or inscriptions of various kinds, as that in the linked image. The decoration was typically in gilt, enamel or paint, and were often of a sentimental nature. It seems unlikely that these highly ornamented objects were used, thus the theory they were novelty items made for display. Glass rolling pins were popular items for sale at country fairs during the Georgian and Regency periods.

Toastmasters’ glasses were probably introduced in England about 1740, intended for the use of professional toastmasters. The toastmaster at a gathering at this time was charged with announcing each toast, but he was also expected to drink to each. By the end of a long evening, his capacity could become increasingly diminished, unless he was using a toastmasters’ glass. These glasses looked like the glasses readily available at the time, but for one important difference. The bowl was exceptionally thick so that his glass held only a fraction of the liquor of the others at the event. He could then drain his glass at each toast and still remain capable of discharging his duty in a dignified manner. Martin Dwyer has an illustration of a pair of toastmasters’ glasses near the very bottom of his blog.

The toddy lifter was first introduced about 1790, but did not come into wide use until about 1800. It was still a common vessel during the decade of the Regency. A toddy lifter looked like a small decanter, with a bulbous base and a long neck. What might not be immediately obvious was that there was a hole in the base and the top. The toddy lifter functioned much like a modern-day pipette. These devices were used as an alternative to silver ladles for serving toddies or punch and were sometimes also known as punch or grog lifters. In order to use the toddy lifter, the beverage must be presented in a large open punch bowl or serving rummer. The bulbous base of the toddy lifter would then be immersed in the liquor, where it would flow into the vessel from the hole in the base. When the bulb was filled, the server’s thumb would be placed over the small hole at the top of the neck and the toddy lifter was lifted out of the bowl. The vacuum created would hold the fluid in the toddy lifter until it was placed over a glass. When the server’s thumb was removed, the liquor would flow into the glass without spilling a drop. Butler’s Antiques has a picture of a toddy lifter, c. 1810. They also have a picture of a toddy lifter, c. 1830.

A yard of ale was a very large glass, quite literally about a yard long. They are known to have existed in England as early as the reign of James I, sometimes referred to as "ell glasses." It would appear the terms for these glasses were used rather loosely, as an ell is actually nine inches longer than a yard. In any event, it is believed that prior to the eighteenth century these glasses had feet, and were large, or rather tall, functional vessels. But at sometime in the eighteenth century their form evolved so that they were made in the form of a long trumpet with a hollow, rounded bulb at the end. These were in fact trick glasses, as they could not be set down without falling over, and when the unsuspecting drinker raised the glass higher to drain it, air would rush into the hollow bulb at the base, forcing out the remaining liquid in a rush which drenched him, often leaving him choking and spluttering.

Examples of all of these interesting glass forms were available during the years of the Regency, so if one of them should appear in a Regency novel you are reading, you will know it is historically accurate. I always enjoy finding interesting objects in the novels I read, and I hope someday I will find some of these curiosities of glass in use in the pages of a novel with a Regency setting.

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About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
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7 Responses to Curiosities of Regency Glass

  1. dwwilkin says:

    Reblogged this on The Things That Catch My Eye and commented:
    Super informative. I love some of these posts for terrific in-depth historical detail.

    • Kathryn Kane says:

      I am glad you liked the post. I try to put as many details as I can in my articles, since they are intended for the use of Regency authors. I loved the detail which Georgette Heyer worked into her novels and I would like to help other authors do the same.

      Regards,

      Kat

      • dwwilkin says:

        I am going through all your Redingote posts. I put a sentence about Marriage Lines in my current work a few days ago.

        • Kathryn Kane says:

          I have a standing offer to any Regency author who uses any of the information in any of my articles, that they can post a comment to that article with a link to their book when it has been published. You are welcome to do the same here when you novel is published.

          Regards,

          Kat

          • dwwilkin says:

            Thank you. I’ll try and remember that. I am way back here though in 09 of catching up on your articles. So it might be sometime before I do publish with the correct reference of your research.

  2. Pingback: Puzzle Jugs in the Regency | The Beau Monde

  3. Pingback: Celeri:   A Regency Delicacy | The Regency Redingote

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