From bric-a-brac finds to new ergonomic pieces, glassware collections and their owners come in many guises. How do you start? We asked some of the drinks industry’s most avid collectors.
“I think it’s over 1,000 in this house, at least,” Remy Savage tells me when I ask him how vast his famous glassware collection is. The man behind bars including London’s A Bar with Shapes for a Name, Floraison, and Paris’ Le Syndicat is known for his love of drinking vessels and has even got his own range on the market as part of a collaboration with ‘simple is beautiful’ glassware specialist, Nude.
So, it comes as no surprise that Savage is about to launch The Glassware Archive, an Instagram account where every day, a different piece of glassware is featured complete with specs and where to buy it from.
Like any self-respected bon vivant, my own glassware collection is a who’s who (or a what’s what) of antique and second-hand shop escapades, and the trophies of surviving perilous tube journeys and rental car rides to the safety of my home. It includes a now odd number of Babycham coupes, a pair of Raffles Martini glasses, some Port sippers complete with four little feet and sipping tubes, obligatory cut glass whisky tumblers, a pair of kitsch Irish coffee glasses with ingredient measurements and illustrations marked up the side, and many, many more (see header).
There are myriad joys to be had from collecting glassware: so, where do you start – and why?
Finding your groove
When Henrietta Lovell, founder of Rare Tea Company, started her collection, she embarked on it using a singular approach. “I started by thinking ‘this is going to be my favourite glass for water, and one for drinking sake, one for wine…’ I don’t have many sets, occasionally they come into my life but it was really about every single piece being special to me.”
Lovell acquires her pieces from bric-a-brac stories and second-hand shops she might be passing, rarely buying brand new pieces, bar a recent clear-crystal sake cup shaped a little like a tea bowl.
Go to any of Savage’s bars and it’s hard not to notice the attention that’s gone into their glassware. He’s been an avid collector for the last 15 or so years, even keeping Guinness pint glasses when the opportunity presents itself. He reckons he’s the largest collector in the world of Bimini glasses. Founded in Austria in 1923 by Fritz Lampl, Bimini Glass was known for producing glass sculptures of figures and animals, and Savage’s collection includes glassware with stems in the shape of nude women.
When it comes to more contemporary glassware, he is a big fan of Japanese company Kimura which specialises in beautiful, premium, delicate pieces of varying designs, from a crumple effect wine glass to its signature engraved Kikatsu range – “they do very cool stuff”.
What’s in the glass?
While the variety of glassware for drinking cocktails may be one of the broadest – Highball, Hurricane, coupe, Martini, etc – whisky isn’t short of options either, although its drinkers are usually more fanatical about their choices.
Micky Plummer, UK brand ambassador in the north for Mackmyra Swedish Whisky, has an impressive collection of dramware at his disposal and is swayed by practicality and nuance over trends or aesthetics. But, there is one style of glass that is his go-to for drinking whisky – the copita. “I just like the feel of a stemmed glass and what you can do with it,” he says of his preference. “You can pick one up for £8-£11 and they’re used by about nine out of 10 blenders to analyse their liquids… they’re great, whether it’s for a comfort dram in front of the telly or getting to grips with something in the [whisky] collection.”
Of course, the choices in glassware of whisky drinkers spans pieces far more complicated – and expensive – than the humble copita. Plummer points to his Norlan whisky glass, designed to look like a tumbler from the outside, while the inside is shaped like industry standard Glencairn whisky glass.
He also gives good airtime to the Norlan Rauk (‘rocks’) glass which has some clever fin-like grooves at its interior’s bottom, to “allow the ice to sit on top of the fins and the liquid to be able to move underneath it.” While Plummer likes his Norlan, he admits he doesn’t use it as much as a Glengairn and, in fact, thinks the latter is probably the “bullet-proof” go to glass for whisky drinkers looking to invest in glassware. There’s even a cut-glass version.
Plummer’s preference for certain styles of glassware for drinking certain styles of drinks is matched by Lovell, who’s opinion was only strengthened while working on a project at the Victoria & Albert Museum. “I was working on a project at the V&A about how we taste things and we were looking at the collection of tea and glassware. We tried the same tea out of many different vessels, tried it on the public, and they had a different reaction depending on the [vessel]. Fineness of the lip-feel was a really important one – if you put something very fine to the lip, …the flavour is much more nuanced.”
She’s also a huge advocate of antique glasses due to them usually being smaller than more modern glassware. “If you drink out of a smaller glass you appreciate it a little bit more – it certainly helps me to sip. I spent some time in Copenhagen and bought old schnapps glasses; if I put whisky in a schnapps glass I sip my whisky in a completely different way.”
Savage even goes as far as being inspired by glassware when it comes to creating certain cocktails: “the visuals come first, the drink after.” He’s also an advocate of thin and delicate glassware – “if I have the most extraordinary eau-de-vie I want there to be as little between the consumer and the liquids as possible.” But when it comes to drinking certains liquids out of certain vessels, the most obvious piece isn’t always the way – sometimes, he says, it’s the bartender’s job to break those rules.
Putting your money where your mouth is
Collecting glassware can be as cheap or as expensive as you want – whether it’s an off the shelf lone purchase in a charity shop or a rare antique online – but it’s always important to watch out for seller’s spiel. “Try not to be dumbfounded or befuddled by the marketing bullshit,” advises Plummer, who between his £50 Norlan and £6 Glencairn, prefers the latter. When he does invest, the science behind the design and the uniqueness play a decent part in how much money he parts with. And if you can, try before you buy, he suggests.
For Savage, of course well-made, new glassware is definitely worth investing in, but he’s also using a £1 Ikea glass at his new bar, Florian – sometimes it’s just as important to buy the pieces you actually enjoy using. Lovell agrees, telling me she uses her favourite glassware every day – whereas most people only use it for special occasions: “The things you touch every day should be lovely things”.
And it’s always worth remembering that, inevitably, some of your glassware will become victims to slippery fingers or an overly rambunctious dishwasher. Having been widowed many times, this is often more traumatic with something that was second hand. But both Lovell and Savage see this is the glass version of the circle of life. For Lovell it’s practical (“it just makes room for new glasses”) while Savage has a slightly more philosophical approach: “Glasses are meant to be touched and enjoyed, and I have a five-year-old daughter so glassware breaks in this house… sometimes glasses are meant to be broken.”