On Super Bowl Sunday, we should all be so lucky to imbibe from a punch bowl like this one—a super bowl indeed. It has been called one of the world’s greatest rarities (by the silver dealer who bought it in 1961 at a world-record price and sold it to Mia that same year) and arguably the finest piece of English silver in the United States.
Technically it’s a wine cistern, which makes it sound like someone was storing wine underground for an entire village. But when it was made, in the 1700s, such bowls were hauled out for parties not unlike the ones that will be held in living rooms around the world on February 4. They were set on the ground and filled with cold water to chill bottles of wine.
The maker went on to become the best-known English silversmith of the 1700s. He was from a community of French Protestants called Huguenots, who moved to England to escape persecution. They introduced such ornate devices—the height of conspicuous consumption, literally—to their staid new homeland, and were undoubtedly thanked for it if anyone could find the words.
A Bird in the Hand
Back in 1932, long before Mia acquired this cistern, the museum had punch bowls on the brain. Prohibition had kept the lid on decadent drinking, at least officially, for a dozen years by then. And curators lamented that the tankards, mugs, and bowls on display had lost their Dionysian appeal.
“Memories, for those of us who are old enough to have them, are stirred by the great silver punch bowl in the Queen Anne Room,” mused the museum in its Bulletin that year. “Nowadays those who possess such bowls use them for flowers or great mountains of fruit, but there was a time when they served a nobler purpose.” Not exactly how prohibitionists would have described it.
In the same cheeky issue, the museum published a recipe from a brandy merchant famed in Queen Anne’s day for his delicious punch: Mix a quart of brandy with two quarts of water, six or eight Lisbon lemons, and half a pound of loaf sugar (an antiquated way of packaging sugar). That’s it. It was called Major Bird’s punch recipe, and was ostensibly included in the magazine as simply “an interesting bit of research into the hospitable customs of our ancestors.” Right.
If you need something to fill your cistern on game day, famed cocktail expert David Wondrich resurrected Major Bird’s recipe for his Punch book last year. You’re welcome, and good luck.