A Georgian obsession with sought-after exotic fruit, and the means by which it could be displayed

Now then, this particular composition was prompted by an interesting and unusual article that we have previously made available for sale and which would have quite rightly made for an impressive centre piece on any self-respecting dining table at the turn of the 19th century. Which is a stroke of good fortune as that was precisely its intended purpose.

A pineapple stand. It may seem a little odd to have something specifically designed to display these curious articles (nasty things – full of string if you ask me), but two centuries ago ananas comosus was far more than just a novel and exotic foodstuff, or something to cut into circles and adorn early pizza (Captain Cook’s untimely demise had barely registered as breaking news by 1780, so not sure that the whole “Hawaiian” concept was, at the time, all that popular…)

To be able to present the fruits to dinner guests was a status symbol, pure and simple. Introduced to Europe in the mid-17th century by Dutch colonists returning from Suriname in South America, they soon became firm favourites amongst the higher echelons of society as a means to make it perfectly clear that one had considerable amounts of disposable income available to expend on such fripperies. They could be purchased only at a prohibitive price due to the expense of either importing them from halfway around the known world, or of having them grown in purpose built - sometimes willfully extravagant – greenhouses, known as pineries or pineapple stoves.

As the great houses of Regency England were designed and built in the early years of the century, the most elegant and eruditely composed of them would have included a pinery. Witness if you will John Murray, the Fourth Earl of Dunmore, who not only had such a structure added to his family seat near Falkirk, but for good measure had it crowned with a carved stone pineapple almost fifty feet high. To be strictly fair, Dunmore’s folly set the standard some years before such profligacy became commonplace, being built in the 1760’s, and it admirably illustrated the requisite level of ostentatious self-aggrandisement to which subsequent undertakings were required to aspire. The theft of pineapples from these buildings was considered to be a most scurillous crime – with the provision of intelligence leading to the apprehension of thieves meriting a considerable reward. As was often the case with the idle rich of the time, somewhat vacuous pursuits – such as pineapple growing – would become intensely competitive with members of the aristocracy striving to outdo one another. Dunmore’s Pineapple is without peer in Britain, but at Royal courts across Europe equally extravagant measures were taken to create facilities in which to cultivate the fruits. When the prickly and unpalatable articles were successfully propagated – which was no certainty by any stretch of the imagination given the prevailing climate – any one fruit would then be “shown” on as many occasions as possible before it started to look somewhat worse for wear and go rotten, which would rather diminish its impact.

Given the penchant of the wealthy at the time for the flamboyant display of their expensively acquired wares, it was never going to be a case of propping your prized pineapple up against a candelabra or decanter and hoping that it would fascinate, captivate and impress your dinner guests. The things demanded that due diligence be undertaken for purpose of their presentation at table and, with the prevailing predisposition for extensive (and expensive) dinner services as enthusiastically embraced as ever, the purpose-made pineapple stand was – errrr – ripe to assume its role at the focal point of the most highly regarded dining tables in polite circles.

Our example hails from the latter period of the pineapple’s ascendency as a decorative objet d’art, is of English origin and is substantially made and exquisitely cut and sliced in fine lead crystal. It may be considered as having little more than novelty value today which rather depreciates the grandiloquent seriousness of its originally intended purpose, but make no mistake that it was conceived in deadly earnest – the importance of affecting superiority over one’s peers in Regency England was not to be taken lightly. That said, if you do wish to present a pineapple for nothing more than the amusement of your guests, rather than to make a serious point about your flourishing affluence and swaggeringly robust financial wellbeing, then it remains a very fine thing to get hold of indeed – just don’t turn it upside down and use it to serve trifle, that’s all…

full details of our pineapple stand


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