What Are the Pros and Cons of Using a Vintage Decanter?

Elizabeth West

Antique lovers can still find uses for a vintage decanter today. Liquor and wine decanters, cruets made for oil and vinegar, and oddments like pickle casters present food and beverages in a more attractive serving container. Old glass and ceramics are generally safe, but some may have issues with lead or radioactive glazes. Collectors should take time to learn more about manufacturers and materials before using a vintage decanter.

Newer decanters made of glass may be less of a health risk than older decanters made from lead crystal.
Newer decanters made of glass may be less of a health risk than older decanters made from lead crystal.

Wine decanters are used to separate sediment from the wine itself by allowing it to settle and then pouring the wine into the vessel, leaving the sediment behind. A vintage decanter may have a cork stopper that can deteriorate over time or be broken. These can be found online quite easily, but may not match the original piece. A new stopper can give the decanter a different look.

Red wine is one of the most commonly decanted beverages.
Red wine is one of the most commonly decanted beverages.

An oil and vinegar vintage decanter set often came in matching table collections that also included sugar, cream, and butter dishes as well as salt cellars. They were sometimes made of porcelain and included a metal stand. Used in retro d├ęcor, they are lively and useful additions to the table setting. Metal decanters for syrup, cream, and liquor mostly hold up well, although battered pieces may have leaks or rust along seams and should be retired from food service.

All older dishes should be thoroughly cleaned before using. The neck of a narrow vintage decanter makes this difficult, but a bottle brush or even grains of dried rice along with hot soapy water can get out deposits. Old glass is best washed by hand in a sink lined with a soft hand towel or thick rubber mat in case it is dropped. Before adding hot or cold items, the vintage decanter should be warmed or cooled to prevent the glass from breaking.

A vintage decanter made of leaded crystal glass can leach the metal into foods and drinks, especially wine and other acidic liquids. Some experts say the risk is minimal, but others advise lead crystal decanters to remain merely decorative. The glass should not be used for any food or beverage served to pregnant women or children because of the risk of lead poisoning, which can cause severe developmental problems.

Uranium glass, commonly known as Vaseline glass because of its yellow color, is made with trace amounts of uranium. This glass can be mildly radioactive and is not considered safe for food. To test the authenticity of a Vaseline glass vintage decanter, collectors will shine a black light on the piece, causing it to fluoresce. Fiestaware and other pottery with a red glaze manufactured between 1936-1943 and 1959-1969 may also be radioactive. Both Vaseline glass and Fiestaware are harmless when displayed in the home.

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