A Biscuit, A Basket


Scottish Biscuit Barrel with Softly-Faceted Glass Body and Silver-Plated Mountings (LEO Design)


The cranky, cantankerous and contradictory Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, once noted, "The English and the Americans are two peoples, divided by a common language."  (Or was it Oscar Wilde or Mallory Browne?)  This eternal divide extends to sweets, too: Americans eat their "cookies" while the Brits have their "biscuits."  Naturally, the vessels for storing those treats vary, as well.

In England, biscuit barrels became commonplace in the mid Nineteenth Century. By the end of the century, nearly every middle- and upper-class home had one in which to serve their biscuits at tea time.  While some might be fashioned of decorated porcelain, the English biscuit barrel was more likely to be glass, topped with a metal cover and silver-plated mountings.  The glass could be plain or hand-cut, colored or clear, smooth or blown with dimensional embellishment such as ribs, swirls, dimples or other graphic effects.

In America, cookie jars in the home became popular in the 1920's and were usually a fairly utilitarian glass jar, topped with a metal screw down lid.  They were, essentially, smaller versions of the cookie jars one might find in a shop.  Around the time of the Depression (1929 and into the Thirties), pottery factories began making cookie jars out of decorated ceramic.  This new material allowed for greater range of shape and more elaborate painted decoration.  Hundreds of styles were created and cheerful novelty—not elegant sophistication—was the driving aesthetic.  Such colorful and exuberant cookie jars were produced through the Fifties and Sixties, after which their production began to taper.  In the Seventies, much of America's domestic ceramics manufacturing was moved overseas.  Furthermore, the rise of store-bought, packaged cookies began to overtake homemade baking; these commercially-produced treats were easily kept fresh in their original, convenient packaging. 

Biscuit barrels, today, can certainly still house cookies with great élan.  But these barrels can also be used to store a range of food items: ice cubes, sugar, salt, pasta, rice, even dog treats.  In the bathroom, biscuit barrels are great for cotton balls, travel soaps, bath salts or pot-pourri.

The handsome Scottish biscuit barrel, shown above, was made in Edinburgh in the Twenties or Thirties by Henry Tatton & Son.  The glass is blown with soft, vertical ribs and fitted with silver-plated mountings.  Click on the photo above to learn more about it.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com)

We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248