The Monteith bowl has long been considered a bold statement piece and is perhaps one of the oldest recorded items of silver produced. This item originated circa 1680 and was originally used to keep glasses cold- being filled with ice water to maintain the chilled temperature. Examples would usually be crafted with a removable scalloped rim. As high society evolved and upper class social events began to thrive, these items became a necessity and were used at buffets and before dinners. Soon after, in order to give the Monteith bowl a dual use, a detachable collar was added to their design. This meant that the base still kept its original use (cooling glasses) and the new detachable rim was used for serving punch.
It is believed that the word ‘punch’ is derived from the Hindu word ‘panch’, meaning ‘five’; punch was originally made using five ingredients: spirit, sugar, lemon, tea or spices and water. There is deliberation, however, between this origin story and one which states that the word ‘punch’ may actually come from the Old English word ‘puncheon’- a cask that held 72 gallons, which could be cut down and converted into a punch bowl.
Punch was first introduced to England around 1650 and shortly after, the popularity of the punch bowl, used at this point to serve spirits, rocketed. This drink became so popular that specific ‘Punch Houses’ were established in the 1690s, in which punch could be served hot or cold. We can find references to punch and spirit drinking from literature of this period; most notably in works by Shakespeare and Milton. Despite its popularity, spirit drinking became a crime by the mid-18th century. Satirical cartoons such as ‘Beer Street.’ and ‘Gin Lane’ illustrate the disorderly drunkenness that swept the nation and resulted in the banning of spirits.
The name Monteith is derived from the name ‘Monsiur Monteigh’, although little is known about him. It is unlikely that he had anything directly to do with the production of the bowls, instead he was known for singing in taverns; for his large character; and for his unconventional cloak. Monteith bowls were originally created with a shaped or notched upper rim. The emarginated rim allowed for a punch ladle, tall glasses, or lemon strainers to be held by the bowl.
The traditional silver Monteith bowl was copied in other materials such as brass, pewter, copper, porcelain, pottery and glass. They were in production form the 1680s to the early 1700s, but after 1725 they were only made occasionally to order for special events.