Thursday, June 4, 2009

Demijohns all around


Front and center or hanging out in corners, these beautiful antique bottles seem to be everywhere I look these days.

Designed originally to transport wine, these bottles were used to carry almost any liquid. They were made in a vast variety of sizes. Older demijohns were all hand-blown, and without the benefit of a mold, the size of the bottles varies with each bottle—each one unique.


Demijohns covered with leather were discovered in ancient underground catacombs in the Tuscany region of Italy and throughout Europe, demijohns have been described as "being around as long as we have." As early as the eighteenth century, advertisements in the U.S. described demijohns as "wickered bottles that will hold liquid."


Demijohns of European origin usually have a globular or ovoid shape.


While American examples tend to be more cylindrical in form.


Other shapes, such as this “loaf bread” form, were made as well.

If you’re concerned with age, look for bottles with a deeper blue tint. In general, the greener the bottle, the newer the bottle (but not always). The type of neck and lip of the bottles can be a good indication of age--a sheared lip is older than a rounded lip and suggests an older process was used in sealing the bottle.


Older bottles tend to have fantastic bubbles and striations throughout the glass. The glass is usually fine and thin and therefore much more fragile than newer examples.

Here are some that have caught my eye lately….


These American (?) examples grouped on a console at Foxglove Antiques really sparked my interest. And then, like the phenomenon that happens when you buy a new car-- before you know it, you’re noticing them everywhere (you know the one?), I began noticing demijohns all over the place…..


From Cote de Texas’ post on "The Octagon Home", designer Tami Owen deftly placed them where the sunlight streaming though the windows would highlight these beauties.


Still in their original wicker jackets, designer Jillian Pritchard Cooke uses demijohns to accessorize a kitchen counter.

from phoebe howard

Another favorite, Phoebe Howard, places them atop a tall chest. (Not sure if that would work here in earthquake country! )

phoebe howard room lamp

Here, one has been fitted with lamp workings and a simple shade in keeping with the beachy theme of the room.

in pheobe howard bedroom

Smoky gray is an option if the more traditional blue/green doesn’t suit your palette.

ballard collection

Even Ballard Designs has gotten a piece of the market, offering a variety of sizes with covers that include rope, cane, burlap and metal mesh. You can also purchase the lamp adapter kits through them.

I found this wistful image on flickr. Can anyone please send me the GPS location of this field? I’m dying to rescue them!

Sadly, what led to the “end” of the common usage of demijohns in wine production was, what else, taxes!

The Tariff Act of 1824 imposed a hefty tax on demijohns of twenty-five cents each, making it much more economical for winemakers to package in smaller bottles. Leave it to the government to muck it up again!!

Regardless of whether they are old or new, demijohns are beautiful decorative objects with the size, texture, and color to make a statement in any room.


  1. This is a fabulous post! Thanks for the history of the demijohns, and all of the beautiful images. I would love a few of these for my family room...

  2. There certainly are everywhere these days. Thanks to you today, I now know the real name. Way more cool than calling them "real big bottles" as I did before.

  3. I love demijohns - and your images are beautiful! The one with the chaise is James Michael Howard (no surprise!).

    I have never seen a demijohn made into a lamp, love that idea!

  4. That field is in Italy - I did rescue them!

  5. THANK you for the brief history of Demijohns. When I saw the Ballard Designs catalog item, I wanted to learn how to make the ROPE that surrounds the bottle. I thought the ROPE was a Demijohn. Any idea what the decorative rope technique around the bottle is called? I'm part of a medieval reinactment society and know brewers and vintners and would really appreciate your help!! Sincerely,

  6. I love this post on the demijohns as I am looking for some inspiration as what to do with my new one I just picked up!

    This really helped!!
    Thank you!


  7. I've been very lucky and have found a total of 15 (11 in one trip) at our little town's recycling drop-off. Granted, I live in southern Italy, so its a little easier! It drives my husband crazy though. We have a local iron worker that has made stands for them as well as candle/tea light holders that go down into the glass with a decorative finial at the top.

    Here's hoping they make it back to the States in one piece next year!

  8. Kathryn,

    I am insanely jealous!!!! The candles/stands sound fabulous--I'd love to see pictures. I drive my husband crazy daily with things like that--it's just part of the package : ) Thanks for stopping by!



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