“The History of Hot Drinks” by Felicity Marno

After a most interesting lecture on ‘Fine Dining’ last year, we were delighted to extend another warm welcome to Felicity Marno, Vice President of the English Ceramics Circle and previously of Stockspring Antiques.

Felicity has co-curated and been joint author of the catalogues of several academic exhibitions including ‘Tea, Trade and Tea Canisters’ and, with the English Ceramic Circle ‘The Ceramics of Vauxhall’ (2007). In 2015 she co-curated the important loan exhibition Sir Hans Sloane’s Plants on Chelsea Porcelain and co-edited the catalogue.

Felicity began by explaining that up to the mid 1600’s the only drinks consumed were beer, wine or water, but that all changed after the opening of new trade routes and the discovery of spices and herbs, including coffee, chocolate and tea. We were amused to hear that the earliest discovery of coffee could possibly be attributed to an Ethiopian goat herder who had recognised that his goats were more energised after consuming these beans! Monks threw the beans onto the fire. Thus the first roasted coffee bean was created!

Muslim traders first brought coffee to Europe and by the mid-sixteenth century, coffee, mixed with spices including clove and cinnamon, had become one of the most popular beverages for the upper classes.  The first coffee house opened in England in 1654 in St Michaels Alley, Cornhill and coffee houses became vital to daily commercial life. By 1668 there were 3000 coffee shops in London. Different coffee houses became significant meeting houses for example, Jonathan’s Coffee House (Stock Jobbers) was the beginning of the Stock Exchange and Lloyds of London.

These new drinks would require new utensils.

In 1660 chocolate houses appeared and Felicity described the Aztec pouring technique (poured from a height and mixed with chilli).  In addition to ceramic tiles and artwork, she showed an example of a Meissen chocolate pot and Italian chocolate beakers which are now displayed in the British Museum as part of the collection bequeathed by Sir Hans Sloane. As a physician, Hans Sloane lauded the health giving properties of drinking chocolate mixed with milk. As a result, the “Necessaire” became fashionable and we were shown fine examples.

The East India Company introduced tea to England in the late 1600’s and it quickly became a popular alternative to coffee and chocolate.  One of the earliest types of English teapot is the Elers Teapot 1695 (Staffordshire) Displayed in the V&A museum collection, it is a fine example decorated with European parcel gilt mounts. It was small and expensive and was intended for a wealthy consumer of the newly fashionable tea. This design was inspired by the red stoneware pots imported from Yixing in China.

Fashionably, high status, teas were then served in bed chambers. Scent flasks were developed as tea canisters and their lids designed to measure tea. Pin trays then became spoon trays. In 1760-65 a form of tea service was established by Chelsea. Notably, there were no milk jugs until tea was being drunk.

In 1784, on the advice of Richard Twining of the Twinings Tea Company, the British Parliament reduced the tax on tea from 119% to 12.5%, effectively ending the smuggling trade and stimulating the tea trade in China for the British East India Company. This huge reduction in cost brought tea into the reach of the common man.

There can be no doubt that the dynamic development of the porcelain industry in Europe and particularly in England followed on the back of tea importation.


“The Development of the Drinking Glass” by Jane Gardiner

Jane Gardiner, a Senior Tutor for Sotheby’s of 17th and 18th Century Decorative Art, returned to our Group to talk on “The Development of the Drinking Glass” which gave members a fascinating insight into the subject.

Jane started from the earliest glass “skyphos” made in the 2nd Century BC – a clear glass vessel, which predates the technique of “glass blowing” that was discovered by the Romans to 18th Century Venetian and other European examples.

The talk was illustrated not only by examples of the glass but by paintings which prove the different types of drinking vessel made over the years and show how it became more fashionable to use glass as opposed to other materials for the vessel for drinking.  For example, slides showing frescos in Herculaneum illustrate the earliest vessels and provide proof of glass being used in place of silver or earthenware pieces.   Also, pictures showing early glass examples as having no feet for standing and are shown held like flutes or drinking horns to the later pieces showing bases, different shapes with fine decoration as engraving and glass blowing techniques were improved.

Apparently the British Rail Pension Fund held a large number of examples of early drinking glasses and around thirty items were sold for nearly £4 million pounds in 1997, including a Roman diatretum or  “cage” cups – cut out of a single blank to form two layers. – the solid inner cup is linked to its outer cage only by a series of delicate struts. No surprise that this example, most remarkable as it survived two millennia buried and then excavated became the star of the British Rail Pension Fund.

By the 4th Century the Romans had perfected glass decorating with enamelling and colours.  The Romans had furnaces throughout their Empire.  One beautiful example that survives from the 13th Century, possible made in Aleppo (Syria) is the “Luck of Edenhall” and its recorded history starts in Cumberland when it appears in the will of the late Sir Philip Musgrave owner of Eden Hall in 1677, becoming a talisman for the family.  It is purported that if anything happened to the glass the fortunes of the family would change and was so treasured that it was kept in a leather box.  It is now displayed in the Medieval Treasury of the V & A Museum in London.  It is an illustration of luxury glass in the Islamic style with patterned enamel plants of gold and blue in absolutely pristine condition.

The talk continued with Venetian glass, which was moved to Murano in 1292 because of the fire hazard of the furnaces – health and safety in 13th century!! Copper Oxide was added to the potash to create the emerald green colour and continued with other coloured precious stone-like colours including seed pearls.   When Constantinople fell to the Turks, the Venetians lost some of their main trading routes and looked to trade more within Europe, and we start to see the development of glass within Europe.  German glass being made from “forest” potash giving a clear form of glass, which was thicker and carved using a rotating wheel.  Lines being added, rock crystal being used, shallow looking bowls being used. –  “Blobs” of glass, like raspberries being added to the glass. The progress of the industry was illustrated by paintings from the Louvre, Uffizi and many other European Museums and galleries.  Also the different shapes of glass being used for wine and cordials, the introduction of red and white wine glasses – although on being questioned about different shapes – Jane explained most of the small, large fluted and bowl shaped are to do with current fashions and tastes.

The drinking habits across Europe were revolutionised as it became fashionable to offer wine in a glass rather than in precious metal amongst the more affluent members of society.

Jane‘s talk was very informative, interesting and extremely well supported by slides and will certainly make us look at paintings for examples of not only glass but also ceramics through the ages.