The use of fish as a decorative feature on a punch bowl is not, at first, an obvious choice. Although sometimes drunk with anchovy toasts, salmon, fried whitebait or oysters (in Britain at least), this does not seem to be the reason for fish decorations.
Instead, it appears that the use of fish decorations on British punch bowls was associated with alcohol and the imagery of being as drunk as a fish.
London, Bristol or Wincanton delft blue and manganese punch bowl c. 1750
The expression ‘to drink like a fish’ has long been popular in Britain to indicate drinking a large amount of alcohol. It was first recorded in 1640, appearing in Fletcher and Shirley’s stage comedy The night-walker, or the little theife: ‘Give me the bottle, I can drink like a Fish now, like an Elephant.’ In William Congreve’s 1700 play The Way of the World, he says ‘Thou art both as drunk and as mute as a fish.’
Delftware with a plain manganese exterior with fish
Trying out a range of rums, brandies and whiskies at a trade show is a great opportunity for me to try out new flavours, learn more and give an added dimension to what could be a potentially ‘dry’ historic study of the world of punch. Luckily, I was in London on the first day of the Boutique Bar Show. Organised by Andrew Scutts, the show is relatively small, with 38 stands, aiming at promoting new and high quality drinks brands to the UK drinks industry through tastings, talks and classes on current trends, production methods and styls, as well as hosting a trade show with producers and suppliers of drinks and bar equipment. It appeals to all those working in bars, restaurants and anywhere where quality drinks are served. This was the 7th year the show was run, held at the Camden Centre, an art-deco building dating back to 1937, opposite the newly renovated St Pancras International station (views of the show below).