In our ongoing series on the little details in the refurnished Dining Room, I thought I would focus on some of the smallest, and yet most eye-catching, items on the dining table. As you may recall from this post, our archaeology project revealed that Kenmore’s Dining Room once contained an amazing array of beautiful glasswares. Colored glass was a luxury in the Lewis era, and despite their reduced financial circumstances, the family owned some of the best – hold overs from an earlier time in their lives.
Currently showcased on the dining table are amethyst double-lipped wine rinsers, one at each place setting. Tiny fragments of amethyst glass found in the archaeological sherds from the Kenmore digs tell us that similar pieces existed at Kenmore in the 18th century. Rinsers were filled with water and were used by diners to cleanse their wine glasses between courses of a meal. A wine glass could also be left to rest in the rinser, held in place by one of the lips, thereby keeping the glass cool in preparation for a chilled wine.
Interestingly, these exquisite pieces were often used for less elegant purposes. By the late 18th century, their primary function was indeed to rinse wine glasses, but just a few years earlier, and well within the time that Fielding and Betty Lewis were setting up their household, wine rinsers were often used interchangeably with “fingers bowls”, “lip bowls” and…”mouth rinsers”. It was considered the height of table manners in colonial America to cleanse not only your palate between courses, but also to wash your fingers, clean your lips, and rinse out your mouth. Early in the century, there was often a communal bowl of water placed on the table to serve all of these functions…including rinsing and spitting. Sometimes the water was scented, and it was perfectly acceptable to dip your napkin into the water and give your face and mouth a good going-over with it. As these practices became a bit more refined, diners were given individual bowls of water to accomplish these tasks, and eventually separate vessels were used for each function. In the last quarter of the century, most of these rituals fell by the wayside, with the exception of rinsing your wine glass.
Other eye-catching glassware on the table include cobalt blue salt cellars on silver stands. You may remember that we discussed the use of salt cellars in this post. Cobalt glass was found in a variety of forms in our archaeological finds, including salt cellar liners and decanters, indicated by a large cut-glass stopper. Two of the salt
cellars displayed represent a distant family connection to Betty Lewis. The silver stands are engraved with a variation of the Ball family crest. Betty’s mother (Mary Ball Washington) was a member of the Ball family on Virginia’s Northern Neck. The salt cellars were donated to the Foundation with the story that they had once belonged to Joseph Ball, Betty’s uncle. Joseph Ball seemed to have a close relationship with his niece, having sent her a tea set from England on the eve of her marriage to Fielding Lewis in 1750. The tea set has never been located, so it seems appropriate that his relationship with Betty is represented by a few other pieces in the house.
Cranberry red glass in the Chamber, purple and blue glass in the Dining Room – it makes one wonder what we will find in the Drawing Room as 2014 progresses!