A guide to collecting and buying decanters

Glass expert Andy McConnell shares his knowledge on antique decanters, from their history to the how much they cost. Interview Mel Sherwood.

Collecting antique decanters
Published: July 27th, 2022 at 10:00 am
Try 3 issues of Homes & Antiques for just £5

What is a decanter?

The decanter is an object of beauty, as well as function; a much prettier object than a vase. It’s anthropomorphic, with a head, shoulders and foot, just like a little person. I like the fun of that sort of thing. I enjoy the beauty of it on my table, and I haven’t drunk wine at home poured from a bottle in 25 years – I always decant wine.

Advertisement

Why do people use a decanter?

If your sister comes round, do you whack out the milk bottle from the fridge? No, you use a jug. Does this make it taste better? No. But does it make you feel better as a host? Yes. And the decanter is the same, only it does make the wine taste better. The simple action of pouring a bottle of wine into a decanter improves the wine in under a minute. It opens it up, softens the tannins, turning a £5 wine into a £7-plus wine.


You might also like the best drinking glasses


What is the history of decanters?

The use of decanters has declined. Historically, you were regarded as socially undesirable if you didn’t decant your wine. At one time, everyone had a decanter, but after the Second World War we lost the habit of decanting; wine was expensive and as a nation we preferred beer and spirits.

Of the 20th-century design movements in decanters, Modernism and Post-Modernism are probably the strongest areas. Modernism because it’s practical – the Modernist decanter you fill with wine; the Post-Modern decanter you look at.

Which you buy depends on whether you’re using them or enjoying them as sculptural objects. The really serious area of collecting, moneywise, is sculptural studio glass, metre tall, unfillable, completely useless, totally amazing!

How much do antique decanters cost?

But if you’re buying to use, choose a design with a wide shape as this gives the greatest surface area, allowing the wine to oxidise quickly. With £100 you could probably buy two or three decanters. The stopper must fit, each one is unique and cannot be replaced. Look out for cracks – they’re bad news.

Glass is cheap, relative to the skill and energy required to make it, but people take it for granted – they see right through it. But normal people with normal money can still buy the best pieces. In 40 years, I’ve only sold two decanters for more than £1,000. One was a 1950s Finnish design, ‘Kremlin Bells’ by Kaj Franck. A collector paid me £1,500 and now it’s worth £2,000. The other dated from 1750.

The record price in decanters was $46,000 for a pair dating from 1825. The equivalent 20th-century decanter would probably come from either Finland or Italy and cost £3,000–£4,000. That’s the peak.

If you’re getting into collecting glass in general, don’t splash the cash straightaway. Visit museums such as the V&A and the British Museum, or specialist fairs, such as Knebworth, where dealers are only too happy to talk.

Visit Andy's website decanterman.com, an invaluable source of information on collecting glass.


You might also like the best spirits for the ultimate drinks trolley

Advertisement

Where to buy antique decanters

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sponsored content