Silver bottle tickets are decorative items that not only show the silversmith’s skill but inform the potential drinker of the contents of the vessel around which they are hung.
Decanters became used in place of actual bottles and it became necessary to identify the contents. A bottle ticket consisting of an, often silver, small label hanging from a chain achieved this.
Engraved lettering identified the contents of the decanter. Bottle tickets have been made in a variety of shapes and some well-known ones are the shield and crescent. Bottle tickets can carry some intriguing names such as Bucellas, Carcavella etc.
The production of small metal objects has led to Birmingham becoming noted throughout its past. In the 18th and 19th centuries Birmingham silversmiths were preeminent among artists and craftsmen.
The silversmith employing his skill on small domestic items often shows it at its best. These can be both practical and capable of taking a fair bit of decoration. Wine labels fall into this category. However, not all were made in silver, and not all were of the type involving a label on a chain.
Wine labels (decanter labels or “bottle tickets” as they were first known, made their appearance in about 1730. They were in general use by the middle of that century. The increasing use of the decanter, rather than the wine bottle made them fashionable.
Early decanters often had the name of the contents painted on them, together with an appropriate floral or foliate design. For instance, vine and grapes for wine, hops for ale and apples for cider. Engraved and cut ornamentation was increasingly used and meant that this practice was dropped. Thereafter, a separate label was hung around the decanter neck.
Silver Wine Labels
The most common type found today are silver wine labels probably because of the durable nature of silver. The production of labels has been in enamelled copper, Sheffield plate, porcelain, pinchbeck, mother-of-pearl and other materials. Some labels were also made in the form of a ring,but these are now extremely rare.
Among the other rare and valuable types of wine labels are those made at the Battersea factory. This lasted only from 1753 to 1756 and which employed the process of transfer-printing in enamels. The Wednesbury-Bilston area and Birmingham also produced enamelled labels.
Silver wine labels, although not classed as “important”silver, often exhibit outstandingly good craftsmanship. Two London silversmiths made the earliest entirely by hand. These were John Harvey and Sandilands Drinkwater who apparently produced labels in a variety of shapes. An escutcheon is the most usual early shape and is often decorated with vine motifs and fitted with a hanging chain.
Before 1790 small silver articles of less than ten pennyweights were exempt from the payment of duty and from hallmarking. Thus the maker marked their items with their initials. Therefore, tracing the working period of the maker can date the items or the style and method of decoration.