LEAD CRYSTAL TABLEWARE THAT HAS A REAL RING TO IT…
Today’s newly listed item from our website provides a timely opportunity to revisit one of our favourite stories, first recounted a few years ago, so long-time adherents to the cause are kindly asked to pardon the repetition for the benefit of newer acolytes.
It’s a pineapple stand – a substantial Victorian cut-glass vessel, produced for one purpose and one purpose alone – to demonstrate one’s personal wealth. Pineapples, before globalisation rendered them wholly familiar to all and sundry, were a properly rare and much sought-after commodity. They were expensive to acquire, whether imported from their native Suriname on the South American coast or grown closer to home in costly, purpose-made buildings known as pineries or pine stoves. What’s more, everyone knew that they were expensive, and if you were able to get hold of one, everyone knew that you had considerable financial means at your disposal and would have been suitably impressed.
The curious thing was that it was not the taste which was so alluring – the things were almost never eaten – but simply the fact that you had the wherewithal to possess one at all. We’ve often made the case that Georgian, Regency and Victorian hosts would look to impress by flaunting the latest, most ostentatious tableware it was possible to obtain – and if your latest substantial, cut-glass vessel could be surmounted with a pineapple, well – it’s hard to imagine just how highly you might be regarded – and envied – by your peers.
It wasn’t even a case of having to present your prickly possession in pristine condition for it to receive the plaudits; pineapples would be retained, to be brought out again and again when the occasion demanded it, to the point that they were over-ripe, going soft and beginning to go mouldy; a pre-prandial preen and polish would restore them to a serviceable standard, and out they would come to be admired by the latest tranche of guests.
Being so highly regarded meant that pineapples were deemed to be a valuable vendible amongst the criminal fraternity – disposal of misappropriated examples could prove extremely lucrative, and pineapple crime was considered a most grievous transgression. There were significant punishments incurred by anyone found to be involved, and substantial rewards offered for information leading to the arrest of such ne’er-do-wells.
Once it had become more practical to grow your own pineapples in the UK as the requisite knowledge became more widely known, and in common with other pursuits which captured the imagination of the affluent upper classes, pineapple production became an increasingly competitive pastime. It was, however, considered wise to insure yourself against the potential failure of your notoriously difficult to nurture crop by at least giving the appearance of having spent a load of money in the process, so extravagant pineries were always preferred over modest facilities.
Royal courts across Europe commissioned greenhouses, stoves and pineries in abundance but it was the seat of the Earls of Dunmore near Falkirk which reigned supreme, where the Earl John Murray had installed a stone hothouse-cum-folly, with stucco-decorated walls, a built-in furnace, sash windows, sculpted stone fronds, integral accommodation for the resident horticulturalists and – literally the crowning glory – a fifty-foot-high sculpted cupola in the shape of a pineapple. This magnificent edifice is currently owned by The Landmark Trust, and it is possible to book the venue for a short break. I would like to think that the tableware provided for guests includes a pineapple stand, and that the drinks’ cabinet has everything required for a daiquiri, but – as yet – I have been unable to undertake a personal assessment of the facilities…