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Silver wine coasters, or decanter stands as they are sometimes known, have been an integral part of the elegant dining table in England since the 18th century, when they were also known as bottle slides.
A coaster serves various functions, originally more functional than aesthetic; it prevents spillage form a bottle or decanter on a tablecloth or directly on to a polished table top; it stops one decanter touching another and thus prevents chipping of cut-glass decanters; and it allows the bottle or decanter to be slid across the table, “coasting”, from one diner to another.
The earliest bottle stands were designed to provide support for the narrow, oval shaped bottles used in the 17th century. But when glassmakers started to make round, straight-sided bottles that could be stored in racks, a need arose to create a design that would enhance their look on the dining table.
Many early coasters were set on wheels so that they could be more easily pushed the length of the table, and in some cases elaborate designs of carriages or ships, concealed clockwork motors to drive them forwards. The carriage design of coaster became known as a wine wagon.
It became fashionable in the 18th century to remove the tablecloth before dessert so that the polished table could be admired. When the ladies had departed the men could sit back and enjoy their port. It was at this point in coaster history that baize began to be attached to the base of flat-bottomed coasters as this allowed them to be slid more easily and this is the standard finish to most modern coasters today.
Until the end of the 18th century, the standard wine coaster measured between four and a half inches and five inches in diameter; later coasters were made larger to a accommodate cut-glass decanters.
To this day sterling silver wine coasters are made in sizes to accommodate bottles or decanters in the London workshops of Hersey Silversmiths. Following the traditional design they have turned wood bases made in mahogany or Welsh oak.
In the centre of this is a silver boss that historically would have been engraved with a coat of arms or family crest. Today this can be engraved with initials, a monogram or a special message or date to commemorate a wedding, silver wedding or other event. It is also possible to engrave the silver boss with a company logo.
A variety of designs are made either in solid silver or pierced in the Gothic style. They make excellent gifts for wine lovers and for those that enjoy entertaining and now you have read this short history of them they can become a conversation piece as well.