Dishes, Bowls and Wine Rinsers
By the mid 19th century, finger bowls had – as a necessary addition to the well-fettled dining table – started to become a non-requisite, as the convention by now was to provide diners with cutlery and napkins, rather than leaving them to tackle their meal unarmed, as it were. The use of these small vessels, however, persisted, with their use becoming more a part of the acutely observed dining ritual than a practical accessory.
They would, generally, be bought to table along with dessert plates or bowls, placed on these larger dishes on top of a clean napkin. Serving staff would then attend to the guests, filling the bowls with cold or tepid water, often with a slice of lemon or sprig of mint or rosemary floated on the surface. On the completion of the final course, convention was to dip the fingertips of each hand lightly in to the water, drying them in a seemly fashion.
In the 19th century as an integral part of the dinner service, finger bowls simply followed the decorative style of their respective associated glassware sets. Early 18th century “seau a verre” we made independently. They did afford the opportunity for a little more flamboyance and although there are few surviving services consisting entirely of coloured-glass items, finger bowls in blue, green, amethyst and the ubiquitous Victorian ruby and cranberry colours are far from uncommon.
We have also chosen to include the range of ‘miniature sweetmeats’ in this overall category – single-serving sized stemware bowls which are collectively known as ‘compotes’ after the stewed or poached fruit in syrup desserts which they were almost exclusively used to present. Similarly, there are other ‘miscellaneous’ dining vessels sherbet bowls, ice dishes and plates and sugar bowls.
One legacy which remained unchanged from the Georgian dinner table was the wine glass rinser – small, generally rather simple bowls with lipped or scalloped rims to hold the stem of wine glasses as they were placed in water for cleaning as wine varieties were changed to accompany successive courses. Rinsers were cut and facetted, frosted or – occasionally – engraved and presented in conjunction with matching stands on which each individual rinser would be presented.