THE DINNER PARTY SET – Part 1 by Eric Knowles

The Dinner Party Set

I am not much into self-delusion but, after some deep contemplation, I have come to the conclusion that I am no longer getting older but simply continuing to mature on my personal journey through both time and space.

I mention this only because people of my vintage – and I use the term mindful that a good wine often ‘matures’ over a period of time – are able to cross-refer to shared local and global events and experiences that include technology but also humour, food and drink.

So, here I am today maturing in tandem with other children born in the 1950’s at a time when a real treat back then (and the 60’s) would be a bottle of Haworth’s Sarsaparilla (sadly long gone) on a Saturday night, watching ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’  or having roast chicken for Sunday lunch.

As Sunday Lunch took place after listening to the radio, by about 3pm the TV was switched on and by about 4pm on came ‘Going for as Song’, hosted by Max Robertson, whilst the star turn was the silver haired and genial Arthur Negus. As a family we rarely missed a programme and to add to the fun my father presented me and my brother with a notepad and pencil with which we had to guess and write down the value of the antiques discussed by Arthur and the guest expert and all before he announced the price.

Now my late father was quite cunning – he devised a meaningful incentive – whoever wrote down the nearest figure to that of Arthur’s was awarded 5 points. Come the end of the programme, whichever brother who had the least number of points lost the game and washed up the Sunday lunch debris piled up in the kitchen sink.

With hindsight, this was probably the early beginnings of my career that has since encompassed five decades – yet with so much more to learn and I’m truly mindful of that fact.

Returning to ‘my generation’, once married it became aspirational to own a home with a dining room waiting to be filled with good quality furniture, decent cutlery, glassware and fine quality British ceramic tableware. However, our limited income meant that Christmas presents exchanged between myself and Mrs Knowles might of take the form of a pair of Royal Worcester ‘Contessa’ pattern vegetable tureens or a matching Tea pot and Coffee pot of the same service.

In those heady days, eating out for us only happened on birthdays and anniversaries because more often than not most people gave dinner parties – if not the candlelit suppers of a legendary TV sitcom hostess.

Today the option of eating out has been greatly enhanced by the explosion of good restaurants and the arrival of the Gastro Pubs ­(identifiable externally by their allegiance to Messer’s Farrow and Ball and similar suppliers of trendy paints of both grey and green).

Having just invested in a new cooker, I now find myself tinkering with the idea of getting back to basics as alongside antiques there appears to be a growing appetite for cookery and baking TV programmes – once again no pun intended!

Should such present day thoughts become manifest, then we still have the Royal Worcester and no shortage of fabulous modern day ‘Cumbrian Crystal’ glassware made up there in the South Lakeland town of Ulverston.

However, with Scottish Antiques, the temptation of switching from new to old is beginning to take more centre-stage in my mind.

Please note, I did use the singular ‘my’ and not ‘our’ as I know only too well that after 43 years of marriage, such thoughts might be little more than a personal fantasy on my part.

However, working as I do amongst beautiful and practical objects fantasising about owning and using such objects goes with the territory.

Taking this one step further I began to peruse the website and started a fantasy dining table ‘wish list’. I have restricted my first choices to three items of silver and three of table glass.

As with all good dreams, this is one that I intend to re-visit for choosing the ceramics and accessories but meanwhile allow me the indulgence – which is not always dictated by asking prices.

As with all dinner party’s good and ambient lighting is all important so for my first choice, I have gone for a tall pair of George 111 Sterling SilverCandlesticks  made by Smith Tate and Co of Sheffield and with the date mark for 1818. Decorated with melon fluted borders interspersed with scallops and acanthus leaves they stand at 32.3cms in height. Of equal importance is that both retain their original sconces by virtue of showing the same makers and year marks.

Remember that candlelight reflected off profusely gilded ceramics offers an almost magical effect – but more of that in the next offering at a later date.

Second in line is a pair of George 11 Sterling silver sauceboats albeit the makers mark is indistinct, both bear the leopards head for London’s Assay Office and the year date mark for 1742.

Both qualify as handsome and are engraved with the Walmsley Family crest and their Latin motto which translates as ‘In God is My Hope’.

At number three I have chosen a Victorian Sterling silver toast rack  made by Hunt and Roskell, late Storr and Mortimer assayed in London with the crowned leopard mark and the year date mark for 1862. Having handled this item upon its arrival the excellent gauge and high-quality are all that you might expect for silver makers to Her Majesty Queen Victoria. However, my primary reason for choosing this splendid object is that presenting toast at a well-dressed table in anything-but a good toast rack is simply unthinkable.

My choices in table glass are relatively inexpensive by comparison and although Georgian cut glass decanters and stoppers abound in both antique shops and auction houses for what might be considered to be ridiculously under-priced, asking prices my choice of decanter still represents value for money. Offered as a George IV cut glass decanter of about 1825  it is adorned with its original hollow ball stopper. The overall cutting is a splendid rendition of the cutters art and popular at that time with the three mitre-cut neck rings showing a transition from those ubiquitous and pronounced triple ring examples of earlier years.

I personally have never favoured coloured table wine glasses – if only because drinking out of cobalt blue and especially green wine glasses whatever the contents suggest that it might easily be poison – please keep this strange analogy strictly between us!

Now for some strange reason, this set of six Victorian Uranium Yellow Wine Glasses of circa 1850.  I found to be both pleasing and acceptable with their petal cut bowls. Although more ideal for white wine they work equally well for red wine.

Finally, I have always been attracted to Victorian rummers and goblets that allow for a decent measure of whatever might be your pleasure – no rhyme intended – plus offer great value for money

The only problem being when I would have preferred at least six examples I would have to be content with this ‘Pair’ of Victorian Rummers dating from 1880, their goblet form bowls make them the perfect for the present day Gin drinking aficionado – a case of what goes around comes around maybe?

Meanwhile, please keep a look out for part-two and thank you for your interest (whilst staying mindful that this might be a casual read for you – but it’s a career for me!).

Best Wishes Always

Eric Knowles FRSA





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