Ed Throckmorton, Owner of L'Esprit Antiques in Harbor Springs, Talks French Wine Antiques

MyNorth: Tell us about the first item, the “panier vandage.”

Ed Throckmorton: It’s a grape harvesting basket used only in Burgundy. Each region in France uses a different type of grape harvesting basket. This one’s a double lobe. This is what grape harvesters – workers in the field – used to use to collect the grapes. They would carry it on their shoulders.  It has that short handle, so they could grab it easily, then put it on the ground and fill it up. They used those probably until the 40’s or 50’s. Now they use plastic like everybody else in the world. This one is similar to one I found in a French book from the 1860’s. I go to France and I pick out every piece you see in my store.  I pick it out myself…for good or for bad!… and this one is special because of its origin in  Burgundy wine, which is  some of the best wine in the world.  Also, I like it because of the form.  It’s hard to see it from here (he pulls it down off the top of an armoire.)  You can put flowers in it. One customer in Los Angeles purchased one and   put it on a big island in her home. She keeps fresh plants in it….also, fruits. Some people buy them just to decorate the top of an armoire.  For instance, you can see how this armoire looks kind of bare on the top (he puts it back up on the armoire), but you put this up there, and it finishes it off and makes it easier on the eye,  instead of  all these straight, severelines in your house. You can see where it’s been repaired many times, too, and where it’s been worn by hands carrying it. What happens is, when you put it on the ground, the bottom  gets wet and rots, because it’s natural material, so they’d constantly have to repair them. I am selling it for $795. When I fist started buying them in France, I could sell them for $325, but that’s how much more difficult it is to find these things now.  You can find new ones, you can find plastic ones, but you can’t find the old ones anymore…

MyNorth: The second item is called a  “hotte.”

Ed Throckmorton: The actual French pronunciation is “oat” – without the “h” sound.  Hotte’s are basically the same idea as the panier  (above.)   It’s a way of gathering products in the fields.  They have a leather strap on the back, so you carry it on your back like you would a backpack, and then you pick fruit or whatever and put it in the back.  It’s interesting, too, because the backsides of these always are higher and the straps are lower; the reason being so when you have it full, you can walk up to a bin and bend over and all the apples or plums will go by your head into a larger collection bin.  Laborers in the fields and orchards in France used this. I am selling it for $695. This one is probably from the 1870’s. It’s also from Burgundy. I buy them in Burgundy and the southwest of France. You can find them in Provence as well.  In Provence, they used hotte’s that were made out of straw. I have one over here.  This is also called a hotte, but that would be primarily used for lavender or lighter items.

MyNorth:  Tell us about the next item, the wine bottle dryer. I’ve never seen one before.

Ed Throckmorton:  Pretty much everybody who likes wine in France who wants to recycle bottles uses wine bottle dryers. They finish a bottle of wine, they rinse it out and stick it on a wine bottle dryer so it dries it out, and then they can also use it for storage. They are still used today by people who make wine.  You can buy them at a wine making supply store. They are usually made out of plastic. The old ones are iron. I’ve seen them where they’re six feet tall. I have one that’s fourteen and a half inches tall, and one that is  thirty seven inches tall.  The wine bottle dryer is one of the reasons I went to France last spring, specifically to get these. I had fourteen calls from people all over the United States who wanted these. People use them for all different reasons. What many people in France would do is grow their own grapes or make their own wine and put them in recycled wine bottles, or they’d take five gallon jugs, go to the local wine co-op, and buy five gallons of wine, fill one jug up with it,  bring it home and put that wine in to bottles that had been recycled so they  could just open one bottle one at a time. You’d want the wine bottle dryer so you could rinse it out and have it for the next time.  This one is $675 dollars. It’s an antique. People use them everywhere: for parties, they put wine glasses on them. One woman in New Mexico just bought one to use in her garden. She was going to put it in the middle of her garden and put bottles on it and put lights around it. We’ve made chandeliers out of them for wine cellars. I always decorate them for Christmas. I wrap a garland around them with lights and shiny stars. This one is from the turn of the century but it’s something people in France have been using for centuries, so it’s difficult to date. They didn’t change the style or the material until plastic became fashionable.

MyNorth:  The next item is a wine tasting table. 

Ed Throckmorton:  They use these anywhere they make wine.  They have been used for centuries. This one dates to probably from 1870. It’s interesting, because the tables have a specific purpose. There is what we call the  “harp” underneath, which rotates (he shows the spot underneath the table where the harp is) and the top rotates vertically as well.  So it takes up very little space. They can push it against the wall, then they can use the space to work – roll barrels or whatever – but when they need to taste wine or when someone comes in for a wine tasting, they  can pull this away from the wall, tilt the top, and  put the harp underneath it. Generally, people stand at these, and drink wine.  This one is from the 1870s’ or 1880’s. The other interesting thing about it is that the bases are generally made out of hardwood – really good strong wood – whereas the top is made of soft wood – any kind of junk wood they might have, or pine. What they would do is they would cover the top with oil cloth and around the edge, you would have little nail holes, and they used to have  a real thin strip of wood to hold the oil cloth on, and then when the oil cloth would rip, they’d put another oil cloth on top it. They’d keep doing that. I’ve had ones with five or six layers of oil cloth around the edge, and then before I’d buy it we’d cut it off. They’re very collectible.  I sell a lot of them to people who want something unique for a wine cellar. Obviously, you can sit at them very easily. They have no aprons; you can just pull up a chair or a stool or bench to taste wine.  The price on this is $2650.

MyNorth: The fifth item is the “bon bonne verre.” It looks like a large jug made of hand-blown green glass.

Ed Throckmorton: Any place in France where people make and drink wine, you can find these. They originally didn’t have refrigeration, and, of course, wine goes bad if it gets hot. So what they would do is they would build a basket. They would have these big bottles – the bon bonne verre -  and they would put the bottle in the basket and stuff straw around the basket or between the basket and the bottle., then fill the bottle with wine, put a cork in it, and transfer it from the wine cellar to a store or a bar.  What they would do is wet the straw inside the basket, and then they’d put it on a wagon, and as they carried it through the hot sun, it would hit the water and evaporate. It would keep the wine cool – natural air conditioning -  so it wouldn’t spoil in transport. People who make their own wine in the U.S. are using these. You can see they are hand blown – lots of impurities or bubbles -  things that make them unique. Most people use them for decoration, and put things like flowers in them . That’s the way we have done it. We’ve always put some flowers in them, and twigs and branches…. that sort of thing. This year, I came up with two different ideas. I had a collection of wine corks. They were in bags all over the house. So I took them and put them into the bottles, and they look really cool. This year, I tried something else different: I used it as a fishbowl (we go over to look at the goldfish swimming in green grasses inside the bon bonne verre). I’ve sold a few because of it. It’s a great way to display fish. The fish love it, because there’s lots of  water. I have nine fish in there. To clean it, you just take it to the sink and dump out the water. Or if I want to do a really good job of cleaning it, then I put the fish into a dish pan, then I add a little bit of sand, and a little bit of water and swirl it around, then I fill it back up with regular water.. I haven’t lost any fish since I put them in there in May. These bon bonne verte’s are probably from the mid -1800’s. They vary in price, depending on size. This one here is $325. I have some for $375.  The bigger ones are $425.

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