What is a Claret Jug?
The name 'Claret' has a French origin meaning bright or clear and refers to the bright colour of French Bordeaux wine. Although glass had been used as a receptacle for beverages of all kinds for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the ‘Claret Jug’ in the form we recognise it now began to appear.
Silversmiths began replacing glass stoppers with silver hinged lids at the start of the 19th Century. In the second quarter of the century, silver handles were added, though the glass maintained the traditional design and bottle-like shape. From the middle of the century claret jugs became a method for artists and craftsmen to display their talent and sometimes flamboyant design ideas.
History of Claret Jugs
Claret jugs were produced throughout Europe and, although France had a large production of fine silver and glass jugs, most of the diverse and often beautiful designs that we are able to appreciate today are British. As 18th century progressed, claret jugs were frequently being produced that had become indistinguishable from the original and traditional bottle – like shape.
Claret jugs provided the artists with the opportunity to embellish their work with the intricate naturalistic motifs that were so popular with the Victorian consumers. Flora and fauna were especially prevalent during this period, and the widespread appreciation of art from the Far East began to influence the aesthetic of all kinds of art produced in this period - the claret jug was favoured as a canvas for the delicate designs and floral decoration that is dominant in artwork from this region.
Toward the end of the 19th century- from around 1880- some of the most rare and elaborate claret jugs were created. So few were produced because the level of craftsmanship and the length of time that must be dedicated to the process was extraordinary. Some of the most extravagant claret jugs were glass which had been engraved with an astonishing level of detail, such as single strands of animal hair being realistically recreated. However, the grandiose nature of the design and obviously, therefore the price would be the downfall of the claret jug.
At the turn of the 19th century, the market shifted from the fashion for exotic furnishings of the Victorian era an age of austerity, which led to curbing the expenditure on unnecessary items in many households. This, coupled with the high cost of producing fine glassware meant that the claret jug industry suffered to the point of extinction. From the 1920's no more claret jugs were produced.
All this history leads us to the current day market for the Claret jug, which continues to flourish due to the popularity of object d’art. However, claret jugs do have a second use as presentational trophies, particularly in sporting events. An example of this is the Open Trophy, now known commonly as the claret jug, which was made by Mackay Cunningham & Company of Edinburgh and was hallmarked 1873.The claret jug is usually more ornamental now and rarely is used for serving the wine for which it was first intended.