One of the fascinating aspects of the refurnishing effort at Kenmore is that with every new room, we encounter a new set of room uses to be researched and discussed. While the focus of the Chamber furnishing work was on all the activities surrounding the running of a household – keeping of the family accounts, direction of servants and slaves, educating children, entertaining friends and family – our focus in the Dining Room is very different. In the grandest room at Kenmore, much of the emphasis is on the public face of the Lewis family and their desire to entertain visitors in the most lavish way possible. One aspect of that lavish entertainment in the 18th century was most definitely alcohol – how one procured it, stored it, served it and even displayed it are all topics for the Dining Room. Today we will cover furniture related to alcohol consumption.
As usual, we start with the 1781 probate inventory. Interestingly, not a single piece of alcohol-related paraphernalia is listed as being in the Dining Room. However, on the second floor, in a room that appears to be used for “lumber” or storage of odds and ends, the inventory lists “1 Case & Nine Bottles”, “1 Case with 11 Bottles” and “1 Cooler”. The cases with bottles are probably references to “bottle cases”, or as they are sometimes called “cellarettes”.
Cellarettes were essentially small wine cellars, lidded boxes often on stands intended to be placed in the dining room, near the table or sideboard. They contained bottles of various wines and spirits decanted from the larger casks and barrels usually stored in the actual cellar of a house. Diners could serve themselves from the cellarette or a servant could do it. Sometimes these cellarettes would be fitted with a sliding panel in front to provide a work surface on which to prepare mixed drinks.
The reference to a “cooler” probably indicates a wine cooler of some type. “Wine cooler” was a name given to several different forms. Some were simply ceramic or metal buckets that would fit a single bottle of wine, and could be filled with cold water and set on a tabletop. A more elaborate version would be the “monteith”, a bowl which could also be ceramic or metal and was intended to cool one or two bottles of wine, as well as several wine glasses which could rest in the bowl’s scalloped edge. Another version is a large wooden or metal tub, often on a stand, that was lined with copper or lead and could hold several wine bottles at once. Such a wine cooler would be placed on the floor near the
dining table or sideboard, perhaps adjacent to a cellarette. In this case, we cannot be certain which type of wine cooler is being referenced in the probate inventory.
Why are these items, obviously related to the service of alcohol, listed on the second floor of Kenmore and not in the Dining Room? Remember, at the time of Fielding Lewis’s death in 1781, he had not been in residence at Kenmore for some time. There would have been little need for such furniture in the Dining Room during those months, as no entertaining would have been taking place. They were probably moved in to storage simply to get them out of the way, but it is safe to assume that they would have been primarily used in the Dining Room. For that reason, when the Dining Room furnishing is complete, we will display a cellarette and a wine cooler in the room, just as Fielding and Betty would have done.