Recently, at Tales of the Cocktail I met a fellow whisk(e)y enthusiast while waiting on one of the many long bathroom queues. What initially caught my eye was a shiny plate of pure silver with the word “Scotch” engraved into it dangling around her neck. I was instantly curious and envious as I had never seen something quite like it. After speaking for a few minutes I was able to collect that the silver plate was a decanter tag from one of her grandfather’s Scotch decanters that was later made into a necklace for her. The rest of the night I ran around telling everyone about this AMAZING piece of jewelry I saw and secretly planning in the back of my mind on how I was going to score one myself.
About a month and many unsuccessful Google searches later, I was sitting on my couch with one of the most important people in my life. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a tiny package disguised in layers of bubble wrap. I carefully opened it and to my astonishment, out fell the most striking decanter tags I had ever seen. Not only was this a one of a kind piece, but it was also produced in the early 1740’s (that’s almost 300 years ago)! Won in a bidding war from a reputable jeweler in London, this decanter tag is literally the only one of its kind. I was completely speechless and so overwhelmed at receiving such a thoughtful and significant gift.
After a bunch of research I discovered that the silver decanter label is one of Britain’s distinctive contributions to European culture. It first appeared as a practical device to identify the otherwise anonymous wine in a decanter. In the 17th century the English began most of their wine drinking after the ladies had retired for the evening. The servants left, and unmarked rough green glass bottles were passed around the table filled with claret, port and sometimes Madeira. It was in the early 18th century that the silver ‘bottle ticket’ was created to hang around the neck of each decanter to identify its contents. Every British silversmith tried his hand with these little labels often known as ‘gentlemen’s jewelry’.
I was able to clearly identify the maker’s mark on my decanter tag tracing it back to the famed Sandylands Drinkwater of London. Sandylands Drinkwater is well-known for his Escutcheon Labels and has been dubbed as the grandfather of wine labels! With the word “Whisky” engraved into the silver this specific tag is considered unusual as it was separate from traditional wine labels.
I am not sure how anyone is going to top this gift!