A decanter--a specially shaped bottle made to hold liquids (usually alcohol)--differs from a carafe or other serving container because it has a stopper. Used since ancient times, decanters can be of a simple design or ornate. They played a significant role at mealtime in medieval households. Glass artists, liquor manufacturers and other companies have produced special edition decanters throughout the years that currently command interest as antiques and vintage collectors items.
Examine old European wine decanters. A Dutch Amethyst wine container (circa 1750) was cut from dark amber-colored glass in genie bottle shape with ribbing over the bottle. An antique black glass decanter from the early 1700's has a simple design and a seal near the bottom.
Recognize antique whiskey decanters. There’s a nondescript English whiskey decanter from the late 1880's made of pottery and covered with a weaved basket. An egg-shaped aquamarine glass decanter with a straight neck was made by Royal Leerdam Glassworks in 1927; this container belongs to the Victoria and Albert’s Museum’s extensive collection of decanters. American whiskey decanters often sported etchings or paintings of nature scenes, such as the grouse picture on a Cabin Still whiskey decanter from the 1960's. Jim Beam and other whiskey distillers often released special edition decanters. The American Samoa green glass decanter (1973) featured a map of the island on its sides. A decanter shaped like a cardinal bird on a perch, made in 1968, has a tree stump bottom.
Check out decorative glass decanters with unusual shapes or patterns. Look at the cut of the glass and the company insignia to be sure it’s a vintage decanter and not a knockoff. (Replicas tend to be made with cheaper glass and fewer details). Examples of antique decanters include a light blue clown decanter produced in France with the clown’s head used as a stopper, and a large, clear Victorian glass decanter with small triangular (Pall Mall) pattern near the bottom. Pall-Mall decanters or glass items were made by a machine etching process and contained curly or triangle patterns on the top or bottom of the piece.
Identify Lalique art glass decanters. A bulbous, frosted glass decanter (with accompanying stemware) showcases the delicate, streamlined design. A clear crystal decanter with a fish pattern at the bottom (circa 1930) and a frosted, rotunda shaped container with female silhouettes also display this French glass artist’s Art Deco style.
Look at antique silver wine decanters. These can include an American sterling silver genie bottle type, with a tall and ornate stopper, an Art Nouveau container with a leaves and grapes design and generous-sized side handle, and an English crystal and silver decanter with a handle shaped like a tree branch.
Check the authenticity of decanters by consulting with antique appraisers or looking at Miller’s Antiques and Collectibles website for pricing information. The book “English Bottles and Decanters, 1650-1900” by Derek Davis contains photographs for comparison and will clue you in on the value of U.K. decanters.