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It is believed that the word ‘punch’ is derived from the Hindu word ‘panch’, meaning ‘five’; punch was originally made using five ingredients: spirit, sugar, lemon, tea or spices and water.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.
The Evolution of the Monteith Bowl’s Design
1680s-1690s: In the early days of production, the decoration of these bowls revolved around Chinese ornamentation. They had a fixed rim and often featured chinoserie chasing, a popular style during this era. Many of these early designs were said to depict Chinese civilisation, however they most likely illustrated fictitious events.
1690s-1700s: By this time, lobel panels connected with spiral flutes became popular design features on Monteith bowls. This style was thought to be associated with the Van Vianen family who were utilised this type of design on their Dutch silver in the 17th century.
Early 1700s- Oval lobel panels rose in popularity around this time, soon followed by the totally fluted bowl. Central cartouches came into play and were often ornamented with coats of arms. It was also at this time that detachable collars began to feature. In addition, fluted design was seen as a standard for silver in the 17th century. Their style fell neatly in line with the elaborate rococo era. Their decorative nature signified the movement away from purely utilitarian silver drinking vessels. They were celebrated for their decorative design, one of the many reasons that they are highly sought after today.