Wednesday, June 13, 2012

To Clean and To Chill

Object: Wine Rinser
Accession #: 1904.0001

 As a guest for dinner at Wilton, one might have had their own wine rinser next to their dish during each course.  As one historian points out, “Glass rinsers were essential to genteel dining in the eighteenth century,” so it would have been for the Randolphs.  Dinner would have had a minimum of 3 courses and a different wine might have been served for each course. So a wine rinser would be placed around the table and filled with water, or even ice, for washing and chilling glasses between courses or wines.

This early 19th century clear, round glass wine rinser with a lip on each side has a continuous band of incised diamond filled cross hatching surmounted by a continuous band of oblique incised cuts.  It was common to see a wine rinser on the table in the 18th and 19th century at an elaborate dinner which might have had lemon water in it or water and ice essential during the hot months.
Before the second half of the 18th century a bowl was kept on the sideboard during dinner to rinse and chill glass between courses.  As one historian contends, “in the eighteenth century, wines were still preferred as cold as possible and the monteith continued to be used for cooling glasses.” However, in fashionable society, these large ornamental bowls, usually of silver, which suspended wine glasses from the notched rim, became obsolete.  This change in preference came after individual wine-glass-coolers, made of glass, were used at the coronation banquet of George III and Queen Charlotte in 1760. 

Alcohol was prescribed by doctors to ward off or cure many ailments.  Access to dependable sources of potable water was difficult, thus wine and other types of alcohol were seen as healthier to drink than water.  As one historian explains, “as in almost every Western nation, alcohol consumption was an intrinsic feature of social gatherings within all classes of American society.”  Foreign wines were purchased by those who could afford them, therefore it is likely that the Randolphs served wine from overseas to their guests.

Especially in the summertime, guests would have as preferred their wine cold.  According to archeological reports, the Randolphs did have an ice house.  An icehouse was common in larger homes in the 18th and 19th centuries and “most Virginia icehouses were brick lined and could be as large as fifteen feet in diameter and of a similar depth.”  The ice was collected in the winter time from large stretches of water and put in a chamber, often packed with straw.  The chamber could be built below the ground or into the side of a bank where the ice could be well insulated. The ice houses could sustain a cool temperature even through the grueling summer months when ice was needed for cooling and preservation.  One historian agrees, “Though not as efficient and convenient as our modern refrigerators, they did the job and kept fresh butter, milk, meats, and vegetables on the table, and, of course, ice for the after dinner drink.”
Dinner for the Randolphs was the most important meal of the day, especially when they had guests in attendance and would entertain them in the dining room.  The Randolphs would strive to impress their guests with a certain level of extravagance as well as comfort.  So it would not be surprising if each guest had a wine rinser to chill and clean their glasses between courses. As one historian puts it, indeed “the abundance of highly reflective cut glass would have added to the glittering effect of a dinner party,” which would please not only the guests but also the host and hostess.



Butler, Roy. “Early Ice Houses”. History. Library Point: Central Rappahannock Library. 24
March 2010. 18 May 2012. <>
Egan, Heather. “Homewood House Museum Offers Lecture Series on the Art of Dining”. John
Hopkins Gazette on the Web. September 25, 2006. 17 May 2012.
Hume, Audrey Noel. Food. Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1978.
Martin, L.G. “Petworth House Ice-House”. Petworth. 31 May 2009. 18 May 2012.
McLeod, Stephen A., ed. Dining with the Washingtons. Mount Vernon: Mount Vernon Ladies’
            Association, 2011.
Williams, Sarah-Paston. The Art of Dining: a history of cooking and eating. London:  National
            Trust Entreprises Unlimited, 1993.
“Wine-Glass Cooler or Rinser”. Encyclo Online Encyclopedia. 31 May 2012. 17 May 2012.
“An Evening Card Party in Regency England” March 2003. 18 May 2012.
“Monteith” 25 May 2012.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Divine Seat

Object: Bishop’s Folding Traveling Chair
c. 1750-1770

Accession #: 1998.0001

With most folding furniture constructed during the 18th century more emphasis is focused on how the chair works rather than the artistic or decorative arts aspects of the furniture.  Such emphasis may not have been the case with this particular folding chair.  This bishop’s chair is made of walnut with leather cushioned arms and seat.  The pierced splat is decoratively adorned with a lattice design and leaf motif.  Where the lattice work ends and meets at the top of the chair is an image of a cross.  Above the cross is the top rail, or crest rail, which has a row of fleur-de-leis bordered by a row of leaves, and the ears of the chair ripple out with carved ridges.  The chair has hinges on both sides to accommodate folding and carrying by the owner.

In the late 18th century, folding furniture was beginning to be made for travelling.  Some chairs referred to as “folding chairs” did not actually fold, but were taken apart when transported. Folding furniture dates back to the ancient Greeks who had a folding stool which had “X” shaped legs and a leather seat.  The owner’s status was reflected in the construction of these stools.  There is also evidence of folding furniture found in Egyptian tombs. 

The parlor of Wilton was where weddings, funerals, and christenings likely took place.  It is quite possible that the visiting clergy may have used a chair similar to this one while officiating at these events.  This type of chair may have evolved from the faldstool which was a portable chair stool that was taken with the bishop on his travels away from his own cathedral or place of worship.  The faldstool became a ceremonial chair taken with the bishop and may have been covered with silk.  It was used by most traveling clergy as early as the Middle Ages.  According to one historian, “The bishop's chair is called a cathedra from the Latin word for chair and it is the presence of the bishop's cathedra in a church that makes it a cathedral. The bishop's chair, then is a symbol of the bishop's teaching office and pastoral power in his diocese.”  The chair represented the authority to teach in ancient times. 

It was common for ministers to do extensive travelling outside of their own church buildings and also to make visits to homes.  In his book called Old Churches and Families of Virginia, Bishop Meade writes of a minister of the Bristol Parish in Dinwiddie County who “during his years of travelling, when he visited counties in North Carolina and Virginia,” was involved in “preaching in private homes.”  Also in George Wythe Munford’s The Two Parsons: Cupid’s sports; The dream; and the jewels of Virginia, Parson Buchanan is visited by a gentleman, “…announcing himself as Col. Robert Braintree, of the county of Mecklenburg.  After a few common-place remarks, he said, ‘I presume Mr. Buchanan, you have heard that I am about to be married to Miss Ingledon. I have called to request you to hold in readiness to perform the ceremony.  It is to take place on Thursday evening next, at her mother’s residence, at eight o’clock.’” As was the case with some weddings, funerals and christenings also took place in the home.  The Miss Ingledon mentioned by Munford is believed to be Miss Lucy Singleton, daughter of the late Captain Anthony Singleton and Lucy Harrison Singleton, widow of Peyton Randolph of Wilton.

Folding furniture was made for the convenience of travel.  A chair such as this was made for traveling clergy who presided over weddings, funerals, and christenings extending beyond the bounds of their own church walls and into such homes as Wilton. This chair and its counterparts were a symbol of the authority the clergy had who carried it along on his journeys. 

Aronson, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Furniture. 3rd rev. ed. New York: Crown Publishers Inc.,
Giblin, James Cross. Be Seated: A Book about Chairs. Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.
Meade, Bishop. Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia. 2 vols. Philadelphia:
Lippincott Company, 1906.
Munford, George Wythe. The Two Parsons, Cupid’s sport; the dream; and the jewels of Virginia. 7 May 2012. <>
“Folding Chair”. Search the Collections. V&A. 2 May 2012.
“Faldstool”. Wikipedia. 18 April 2012. 2 May 2012. <>
“Interesting Facts about Bishops”. Diocese of Orlando. 2 May 2012.
“Folding chairs: Glastonbury Type”. Tim Bray. Albion Works. 15 March 2003. 2 May 2012.
“Faldstool-Bishop’s Chair”. Peter Leue Designer/Craftsman. 2 May 2012.
“Furniture Anatomy Illustrated”. Your Antique Furniture Guide. 2 May 2012. <http://www.efi->