The wardrooms of the early frigates abounded with tableware such as this decanter, but few shipboard objects as fragile as this survive today. This decanter is exceptionally rare as it was used in the wardroom of USS Constitution.
The form of this example suggests that it was manufactured in the 1820s and may have been on board during the ship’s two long Mediterranean cruises from May 1821 to July 1828. A silver cap covers the wide pouring lip and has been inscribed, “From the Ward Room of the officers of the U.S. Frigate Constitution,” implying that this decanter had a second life as a cherished object that was once used on board “Old Ironsides.”
Until the 1780s, vineyards shipped most wine to market in an unfiltered state. Casks and bottles contained a bitter sludge or sediment called the lees. Early decanters tended to be made of dark glass or opaque pottery or metal in order to obscure the sediment. Once merchants regularly filtered the impurities from the wine, glass manufactures began successfully marketing crystal clear decanters for the table. This decanter is a relatively plain example of the glassmaker’s art. Elaborate pieces might include deep, complex cut work, gilded emblems, and interesting stoppers.