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  • Writer's pictureJessica Bartlett

Something old, something new: The vintage French wine glass that inspired my new collection

Updated: Feb 16, 2022

These glasses tell a story.

For my latest drinkware design, I have taken inspiration from a set of vintage French wine glasses that a friend has shared with me. They were a wedding gift to her grandparents, Marguerite and Paul Poinsignon and had been passed down to her as part of her inheritance. These glasses have survived a war, house moves and countless gatherings in nearly a century of use where a clumsy hand might have damaged them. They are fragile and yet have survived the test of time, and are a wonderful metaphor for love.

I was instantly taken with the pretty pattern around the outside of these glasses. They would have been etched by hand using a stipple engraver. The wreath design wraps around the top of the glass and a garland is engraved, looping around the middle. I use power tools to create my work and so I am amazed at the skill and accuracy of this engraving. It has a lighter touch than anything I would achieve using modern tools. Engraving is like a form a sculpture; it is a physical mark and so has a tactile quality. I gently rub my thumb over the pattern, each leaf carved into the surface.

They are small glasses, by modern standards, We joke at the modesty of their drinking habits compared to ours. Maybe the smaller one was an aperitif glass, I wonder? I think of the ritual involved in laying a table formally, each glass serving a unique purpose and how pretty these glasses would be as part of a full set laid out on French linens. My mind returns to the original owners, Paul and Marguerite and I imagine them carefully unwrapping each glass, the etching catching the light. I wonder if they could have imagined nearly 100 years later an English glass engraver would be holding one of their glasses. I asked Géraldine to tell me more about her grandparents and this is their story:

Paul’s mother took sewing and ironing lessons from Marguerite’s mother and the children were introduced. They were married at the age of 25, on 2 February 1929 in Notre Dame, Metz, France.

They had four children, two boys and two girls. I like to think of the full set of wine glasses being used at family Christmases and celebrations in those early years of their marriage. However, we know that the following decades were turbulent time in Europe. In 1940, German troops had invaded and occupied Lorraine, where the family were living. Paul never accepted the German rule and by 1943, the whole Poinsignon family were sent to a prisoner camp at Silesia (modern day Poland). Whilst away Marguerite had another baby; in fact it was Géraldine’s mother who was born in a prisoner camp and against the odds the family stayed together and survived the hardship as a family of seven. They were moved from camp to camp, seven times in total, before they were freed by Russian troops. In July 1945 they returned to Metz. We do not know what happened to glasses and other possessions during this time but somehow, they were kept safe and reunited after the war. Maybe the extended family took care of them whilst they were away. Held in anticipation and hope that they would be needed and used again by the family. It’s hard to imagine what they went through during that time, the years of upheaval and fear. I also wonder what they felt returning. Was it joy and relief to get their things back? Was it reassuring to know that someone had kept their things safe with the hope they would return? So much would have changed in this time. I like to think that maybe this gave them some of their identity back and a way to rebuild what would have been lost in the horror of war.

The wine glasses, offer a tangible sense of continuity and connection with the past. They represent family gatherings and toasting to the future as well as raising a glass to life well lived. They are part of the punctuation marks on our life story. They are vessels of optimism that have carried forward through the decades. It’s the decoration that makes them unique, personal and recognisable- not any old wine glass, but Paul and Marguerite’s wedding glass. I am inspired by the decoration as well as the remarkable story and have drawn my own design based on some of the elements. On one glass, I have taken the looping garland and stylised bulb design and repositioned these around the top of the glass. This still keeps the vintage feel and is quite traditional. On the second glass I have enlarged the floral-bulb pattern from the wreath on the original glasses to make into a contemporary pattern around the main part of the glass. The bulb design is inspired by the hopefulness of their story, representing new beginnings in an elegant way. It fits with their February wedding when the first snowdrops start to appear. I have started with the design on a champagne flute and will extend it to a full collection of drinkware in the next few weeks.

This new design will form a collection: ‘Joie de vivre’ (exuberant enjoyment of life) in honour of the Poinsignon family. I think the glasses would make a particularly fitting wedding gift and I am happy to add personalisation to the base of the glass should this be desired. I like the way they fit with the tradition of 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue'.

And now I would like to raise a glass to Paul and Marguerite. Salut!

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