The social platform for antiquers, collectors, and enthusiasts


1800 to 1830 U.S. Mold Blown Decanter

by Jessica Kosinski


Ancient Clay Israelite Wine Decanter
Ancient Clay Israelite Wine Decanter

When talking about antique glass collectibles, one category that shouldn’t be ignored is the decanter category. Decanters have existed for several centuries. As a result, there are many different types to collect. Let’s take a peek at the interesting origins of these unique vessels, their purposes, and the different styles produced over the years.

What is a Decanter and How Does it Differ from a Carafe?

A decanter is a container typically made from crystal or glass and generally used to hold liquid. That liquid is usually wine or some other type of alcoholic beverage. Most decanters have wide bases and narrow necks. They are quite similar to carafes, but the difference is decanters are usually sealed with corks or stoppers of some kind. Carafes can hold many types of liquids ranging from wine to coffee. However, they aren’t designed to store those liquids. They are only used for serving purposes. Decanters are useful as both practical long-term storage containers and decorative display pieces.

The Early and Modern Histories of Decanters

The term “decant” means to separate or draw off liquid without disturbing the sediment or, to pour a liquid from one vessel into another. Decanters of various types have existed for many centuries. In many ancient societies, wine was stored in extremely large clay vessels. As a result, it needed to be decanted into smaller vessels for practical reasons before it could be served to individuals. Medieval Europeans used glass vessels for decanting, but the vessels were not shaped as they are today. Instead, they were more bowl-shaped and often decorated with fingerprints. Thus, they were dubbed “finger bowls.”

During the 5th Century, Europe entered the Dark Ages, and wine decanting declined. Yet in the Middle Ages, decanters could still be seen in royal courts. They were not like decanters as we know them now. The transition into modern decanting took much longer. It finally began to take place in Italy around the 15th Century.

The Ongoing Modernization of Canter Design and Beauty

By the 16th Century, the city of Venice, Italy, was well known for its glass production. That expert glassmaking led to the creation of a new type of decanter less likely to cause liquid contamination or deterioration, as many older decanters had. Soon, Britain, France, and other parts of Europe were seeing an increase in wine decanting again thanks to the more polished finish created by those Venetian artisans. Next came an explosion of European decanter production from the 1500s through the 1800s. It was around the 1800s that more decanters began to take on bottle-like shapes, as opposed to the jug-like shapes of the past.

The 1800s was also a period when changes in technology made it possible to develop more elaborate decanter designs that were showy and interesting, rather than simply useful. From that point onward, decanter designs were heavily influenced by the changing fashions of each era and geographic location. Many decanters can be at least somewhat dated based on both the materials/ methods used to create them and their general styles. Shapes can also be at least partial indicators of general age because decanter shapes changed so much over time.

Types of Antique Decanters and Why Some Are Dangerous

Etched Glass Decanters 1800s
Etched Glass Decanters 1800s

Most antique decanters that were developed in the Venice era of decanter production were made using either glass or some type of crystal. Crystal simply means strengthened glass. It was strengthened by the addition of certain minerals. Common minerals used in glass production at the time included silica, potassium carbonate, and lead oxide. Once the decanters were made or during the production process they were also often decorated. Some were etched. Others were painted. Some were even inlaid with gems or metals. Similar practices are still used today in the creation of modern decorative decanters, but some important changes have been made to improve the functionality of decanters, as well as public safety.

One of the biggest changes made for safety was in the selection of materials used. Many antique crystal decanters contain trace amounts of lead. Lead has since been determined to be a potentially hazardous material. When such antique decanters are used, some of the lead can make its way into the liquid over time, potentially causing wine drinkers to become ill. That is why antique lead crystal decanters are best collected for display purposes only, not for actual use.

Other Considerations When Collecting Antique Glass Decanters

18th Century Hand Blown Decanter Blue
18th Century Hand Blown Decanter Blue

There are two primary reasons to collect antique glass or crystal decanters. The first is to actually use them for decanting wine or spirits. When selecting one for that purpose, look for a wide design with a skinny neck. A wide base helps the wine aerate. Also, make sure the stopper is original to the decanter and works properly. Both the vessel itself and the stopper should not be chipped or cracked.

The second reason to collect antique glass decanters is because many of them have beautiful shapes and designs. They display wonderfully in cabinets and on shelves. When collecting purely for display purposes, you can use an entirely different set of standards. Simply look for shapes, patterns, or colors you enjoy. You may also opt to collect decanters from a particular geographic location or era. Regardless, the only considerations you need to worry about are your own personal preferences, your budget, and the general conditions of the pieces you are considering purchasing. Often, more unusual antique decanter shapes are preferable when collecting for display, even if they would be completely impractical when used for actual modern decanting.


Jessica Kosinski has been a freelance researcher and writer since 2001. She developed a passion for 1980s pre-1980s TV and films as a kid, and she has never grown out of it. Recently, she turned that passion into a retro TV and film blog. Follow along with her at, as she dives deep into the characters, actors, quirks, and trivia that brought us some of the greatest films and shows in TV history and also discusses some of the more obscure films and shows most of us may have forgotten.