G.R. has a mid-century cocktail set on stand, made in the 1960s by The Riviera Company called the “Royal Crown” barware set.
The idea of themed (“royalty,” for example) cocktail paraphernalia goes back to the name “cocktail” itself, to 1806.
“Cocktail” means “a strong drink.”
We now have a resurgence of the cocktail craze, perhaps because anything midcentury is hot, which was the American middle class’s heyday of the shaker, dedicated martini and highball glass sets, and the “family” cocktail hour — not to mention drinks at lunch and after work and before dinner.
Special retro sites like the History Company online offer historic drinking objects such as Hemmingway’s swordfish-emblazoned Rocks glass and The Old Knickerbocker Club’s Top-Hat stemmed martini glasses.
The idea of a ceremonial presentation pre-drink set-up, as we see in G.R.’s set, harkens back to a social drink preparation ritual, celebrated in a landmark museum show in 2017 at the Dallas Museum of Art: “Shaken, Stirred, Styled: The Art of the Cocktail.”
In that show, we see the history of the accoutrement of drinking from the first 1881 Sterling Tiffany Punch Bowl to today. In the mid-18th century, the punch bowl was fashioned in China of porcelain for the very wealthy, today, a collectible called Chinese Export porcelain. These are gorgeous. And what is often not known: They were designed for very strong “soups” of liquor, served with a ladle.
But the history of ritualized boozing goes back earlier in the 18th century when taverns were the meeting place. When a gentleman wanted to make a political point and hammer it home, there was a special booze glass to do just that called the “firing” glass — with a very heavy base, which could be slammed to the table..
Speaking of the 18th to 19th century punch bowl, however, not all people wanted the same drink, communal and ceremonious.
Therefore, the publication as early as 1862 of the first cocktail recipe book, Jerry Thomas’ “How to Mix Drink: The Bon-vivant’s Companion.” was published.
As the 19th century drew to a close, two important factors contributed to the popularity of mixed drinks: 1) the transportation of ice and 2) the refinements of distillation, which meant that a drinker did not have to hold his nose to drink without adding sugar, citrus,or spices to the unpalatable hooch.
You would think that the 18th Amendment would have stopped the forward progress of the drink object industry growing along with the liquor industry. Prohibition was laid down in 1919, but instead of ceasing to manufacture fine drinking paraphernalia, manufacturers turned to home sales of objects.
And because Prohibition was so laughable, they created whimsical Cocktail Shakers, such as those in the shapes of skyscrapers, lighthouses, golf bags with ball finials, cocks and chickens (of course), penguins and my favorite, the watering can.
These from the 1920s-mid 1930s were, for the upper middle class, created in sterling.
Right at this time, the drinking-glass industry really had some fun with Prohibition, and one manufacturer, McKee Glass, designed a flesh-colored tumbler with a naked human female posterior to the top (these were meant to be displayed upside-down) called — what else? — “Bottoms Up.”
Then came the stock crash followed by the Great Depression, which also did not stop the Drinks Accoutrement industry. Instead of sterling shakers, the “family” could purchase chrome or silver plate or glass gear. When the 21st Amendment repealed Prohibition in 1933, the industry was ready with sleek new Art Deco designs, seriously elegant and streamlined.
Objects got whimsical again, such as the Tiki glass, after World War II when the middle class family was reunited, and entertaining was done on the cheap in the home.
At this point, we get gold embellished illustrated glassware and all manner of colored glass shapes. And we get sets like G.R.’s, elegantly presentation-boxed, meant to be given as gifts, and used only (we hope) once a day around 5 to 6 p.m. in a social ritual of mixing a drink.
You see that GR’s set features ice tongs, a double jigger, two styles of bottle openers, a citrus knife and a long martini stirrer.
What is missing is a wine bottle opener, and that is because this set was used for hard liquor imbibement. Wine was for sissies.
And the set also shows us the maturation of the drink accoutrement industry, because to manufacture such a set would involve plastics, metals, hardware (metal casting), custom fasteners, much engineering, chrome and gold tone flashing and fine packaging.
I see these Riviera sets advertised as Mad Men specials online for $50-75.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press Life section.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.