Tantalus is a type of liquor decanter in which the bottle stoppers are locked down tightly by a metal bar. This was to prevent the theft of the contents by servants. Like the name suggests, the decanters themselves are visible, drawing temptation while unattainable. A key is required for entry.
The most common types of tantalus holds three bottles or decanters while there are also smaller types housing only two. There are many different forms of tantalus. Often the encasement has metal handles on both sides and ornately carved decor. Crystal and metal versions are also a beautiful option when choosing a tantalus.
Tantalus derived its name from the story of the mythological Greek king, Tantalus. To be tantalized is to be tempted with the unattainable, and the king, condemned to an eternity in Hades, was sorely tested. He was forced to stand forever in water that, when he bent to drink, would recede and to gaze upon foods he could only reach for and never grasp.
The 1800s saw our Victorian predecessors apply the King’s name to the lockable decanter.
Old Sheffield Plate - or ‘fused plate’ as it is sometimes known, was the first commercially viable method of plating metal.
The material was accidentally invented by Thomas Boulsover, of Sheffield's Cutlers Company, in 1743. While trying to repair the handle of a customer's decorative knife, he heated it too much and the silver started to melt. When he examined the damaged handle, he noticed that the silver and copper had fused together very strongly. Experiments showed that the two metals behaved as one when he tried to reshape them, even though he could clearly see two different layers.
Boulsover set up in business, funded by Strelley Pegge of Beauchief, and carried out further experiments in which he put a thin sheet of silver on a thick ingot of copper and heated the two together to fuse them. When the composite block was hammered or rolled to make it thinner, the two metals were reduced in thickness at similar rates. Using this method, Boulsover was able to make sheets of metal which had a thin layer of silver on the top surface and a thick layer of copper underneath. When this new material was used to make buttons, they looked and behaved like silver buttons but were a fraction of the cost.
The technique Boulsover developed was to sandwich an ingot of copper between two plates of silver, tightly bind it with wire, heat it in a furnace and then mill it out in to sheet, from which objects could be made.