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History of the Beaker

What is a Beaker?


Beaker is the word traditionally used for a flat based vessel, rather than a bowl with a stem base such as a goblet, chalice or cup. Beakers also usually forgo handles or a lid, and have a basic cylindrical form.


The term beaker may be derived from the Greek ‘bikos’ (earthenware jug), German ‘beker’, or Old Norse ‘bikarr’.


Beakers are very similar in shape and style to what is now commonly referred to as a tumbler, as they maintain the same cylindrical form, with the opening which is drunk from being slightly wider than the base.


History of the Beaker


Many types and styles of beaker have been discovered across Europe from as early as Copper Age (4300 BC - 3200 BC) and the Bronze Age (2500 – 600 BC), many of which still resemble a similar form to much later antique Stuart and Georgian beakers, which are scarce but still available to collectors.


Owing to the abundance of these types of vessels dating around the 14th century, it has been deduced that within Europe, the beaker was the most commonly used type of drinking vessel, no surprise when considering its simplistic and practical design.


By the 16th century glass manufacturing processes became more refined, and its versatility had a great impact on the production of drinking vessels of all shapes and sizes. This in turn reduced the demand, and hence production, of the humble beaker.


During the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras, beakers were often used by those who travelled, as they were easier to transport and a more sturdy shape than vessels such as goblets, whose weaker stems would likely be damaged from being packed away over long journeys.


Types of Beakers


Smaller beakers often originated in China and the Far East, due to the strength of the favoured alcohol in these regions. Antique beakers from Europe would often be used to consume beer and wine, these smaller beakers would be intended for grain alcohol; therefore less volume of this beverage would be required.


Much early antique silverware featured little if any decoration or detail, early beakers often being completelMuch early antique silverware featured little if any decoration or detail, early beakers often being completely devoid of any embellishment. The shape and style of the beaker have evolved over time. Early examples are often tall, featuring a spreading foot. As time went by the beaker grew short and squatter in form, with gradually less ornament.


Some of the earliest forms of English beakers originate from the 17th century, during the reigns of James I (and IV of Scotland) and Charles I. These types were known as Stuart beakers. Stuart beakers were normally crafted in a tall cylindrical form, often with engraved floral design.


During the 18th century, it became more common to have a family crest or monogram engraved into your silverware; this rapidly developed into a trend for more lavish and bold styles of silverware decoration. Advances in silverware decorative techniques allowed for more complex methods of embellishment and this married with the fashionable Victorian desire for design featuring extravagant and florid detailing.


Antique beaker

Beakers were also created for use when travelling; compact, easily transportable and known as the collapsible beaker. These beakers are comprised of concentric bands of silver which fit neatly into each other, and so can be expanded and compacted at will – making it the perfect travelling companion!


Beakers in silver, gold and featuring decoration such as engraving or enamel work are common all around the world, although were particularly prevalent in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in Russia.


what is a beaker

We hope that our brief foray into the history of the humble beaker has been elucidating, and that we’ve quenched your thirst for information on these intriguing cups and vessels!


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Andrew Campbell started trading in antiques during the 1970s. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.
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