Hand-me-downs. Thrift store finds. Sole survivors.
If you're anything like me, your cupboard is probably crammed with odds and ends of orphaned glassware. Chances are you never planned it that way (I know I didn't), and sometimes fantasize about starting over with an all-matched new set (I know I have). But lately I've come to appreciate all the versatility and variety in my haphazard bar glass collection.
The Advantages of Unmatched "Sets"
If nothing matches, it can all somehow become a set. My grandmother had a collection of single teacups in different patterns she acquired over the years - why not take the same approach to cocktail glasses?
- When entertaining, you don't have to keep track of whose drink is whose - you'll know at a glance
- A certain amount of versatility is built into variety: You'll always have different styles to choose from for different occasions and moods (from the thick and sturdy for day-to-day use, to the delicately refined for special occasions)
- If a glass breaks, you don't have to worry about finding an exact replacement (Added bonus: natural selection. I've always believed in a kind of "survival of the fittest" in glassware - poorly balanced, top-heavy pieces tend to be the first to go)
- As your tastes change and evolve, you can experiment with single glasses in different styles
Method in the Madness: Tips for Putting Together Improvised Sets
- Go by weight. Group thick, sturdy workhorses together (see the newish "martini" glasses in the top pic), or combine thin, delicate glasses (as in the vintage arrangement directly above)
- Or by decorative style. Etched designs (see the sherry/cordial glasses, bottom), gold rims, kitchy decals - any one of these decorative elements can become the common thread
- Or by color. Look for tinted glass or applied decorations with similar hues to pull everything together
- Or just go freeform. So long as each glass holds approximately the same volume of liquid, really anything goes (see the shot glasses directly below)
Sidenote: Things to Keep in Mind When Using Vintage Barware
- Vintage cocktail glasses tend to be much smaller than their modern supersized counterparts (3-4 ounces vs. 5-8 ounces). Keep this in mind when using modern recipes (I'll often shake up a batch of cocktails following a modern recipe for 3 drinks, and then divide the finished product into 4 vintage glasses)
- Glasses of different shapes and sizes don't always fit together in tidy rows the way a matching set would. For this reason, they'll often take up more space. (If you're building a collection, keep storage in mind)
- Most vintage glasses should be hand-washed and dried with a soft cloth. (Barware that predates dishwashers was not designed to stand up to the stresses of machine washing)
- Gold-rimmed glasses or those with other applied decorations often show wear and are definitely not dishwasher safe
- Watch for tiny chips and nicks on the rims of older glasses - these can sometimes be sharp
What's your take on mismatched glasses? Do you have any favorites at home?
Related: Collecting: Small Glasses
(Images: Nora Maynard)