To begin with, I thought I would introduce myself. I am Cindy Lambert, the curator at the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County. Every month for the past couple of years I have written an article about items from the artifact collection. It is my responsibility for finding and obtaining objects of relevance to San Luis Obispo County’s wine history, exhibiting these acquisitions for the public (whether in physical or digital format), providing research and then narratives for interpreting these objects, and even for the collections’ physical care. The role of a curator is ever-changing and evolving in our digital world. Instead of being a teacher about the subject, curators are becoming more like facilitators; guiding interest to the subject matter of the collection. So, let’s get started on a new category of the collection: funnels.
What do we really know about them? Funnels are very utilitarian. As a child, I remember taking a piece of paper to create a funnel to refill a bottle with liquid without spilling it. Funnels are used as instruments for transferring liquid in a laboratory. But they are also used in draining oil, baking in the kitchen, and putting fluids in your car. Nowadays, many different materials are utilized in the creation of these funnels based on the functions of the funnel itself: sometimes disposable paper funnels, sometimes glass, and at other times stainless steel. Today, one can find funnels in plastics, polypropylene, plexiglass, etc. You get the picture, right?
Many people like to glamorize the use of funnels and relate it to “Prohibition days” when liquor was being made in stills and bootlegged. And so, that leads me to the use of them in the winemaking process.
I have acquired six wonderful examples of various types of funnels which were once used in wineries, or possibly for “home” winemaking use. The materials used in their construction and available “back in the day” typically would be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the substance being transferred.
Ancient Funnels Were Made of Wood
For the past 6,000 years winemakers have invented and designed the tools they needed to care for their crops and make their wine. They have used tools of stone, animal parts or clay to carve objects from local materials available in their environments. But in cases throughout history, even as late as the twentieth century, if an object was needed for a task to be performed for an everyday task, that object was made from woods native to their region combining the wood with metals. Remember that adzes, saws, chisels or axes were common to most households during the nineteenth century in order to make barrels for storage of food products including flour, olive oils and wines.
Something you might not be aware of was that France is a producer of cherries, and therefore there are a lot of cherry trees, mostly from five regions of the country: Provence, Rhone-Alpes, Languedoc-Roussillon, Mid-Pyrenees and Val de Loire. The majority of the national output of these cherries is from Provence and Rhone-Alpes which are also two regions that traditionally have produced a lot of wine. Winemakers in France and Italy had access to wood because it was customary to plant cherry trees among the grapevines. One of the interesting things I learned about the Martinelli family in Templeton is that they brought the Italian tradition of planting cherry trees in the vineyard to our area.
Here’s something else that I’ve learned. An extraneous growth on a tree is described as a burl. A burl usually grows when a tree is undergoing some type of stress and the growth hormones of the tree are disrupted, thereby displaying the swirls and colorful lumps it produces. According to my research, these burls usually reach maturity between thirty and forty years which make them extremely rare. Even though it appears ugly on the outside, it is magnificent on the inside. As a material, it is extremely dense and resistant to splitting. Burls can form on any type of tree, but some species are more susceptible: maple, yellow birch, spruce and cherry to name a few. A-ha! Let’s keep this bit of information at hand as we explain the funnels in the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County collection.
The Use of Copper Dates Back 6,000 Years According to the Bible
Going back to your chemistry classes you might remember that the chemical element of copper (Cu) with the atomic number 29 is a soft, malleable, ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity properties. And, if that copper is exposed in a pure state, has a pinkish-orange color. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), copper ranks as the third-most-consumed industrial metal in the world after iron and aluminum. Remember also that aside from gold, copper is the only metal on the periodic table whose coloring isn’t naturally gray or silver.
Being a coppersmith, “goes back to one of the few trades that have a mention in the Bible possibly over six thousand years.” In fact, “copper was found in great quantities in North America and recorded by a Jesuit missionary as early as 1659” as mentioned in a book written by Henry J. Kauffman, American Copper & Brass published in 1979.
The invention of sheet metal rollers made it possible for copper to be more versatile, and easy to create copper tools and objects. As an historical fact, due to the regulation of copper, sheet metal production was prohibited in the United States colonies before the American Revolution. Large scale mining of copper in the Americas originated in the late 1800s, primarily in the West. Small mines existed around the United States and because of open-pit mining techniques the United States quickly became the world’s largest producer of copper.
Copper objects are mostly created on lathes using specially made forms. The sheet metal is heated then cooled before forming to lend it pliability. This process is called annealing and using this technique will create almost any shaped object. By alternating between annealing (or hardening) and beating sheet copper, the shape of the item to be created takes form.
Mostly, the craftsperson will then line the object with molten tin to prevent the copper coming into contact with the “food” product it will be utilized for. Copper is the preferred metal for culinary items because of its highly conductive properties, because it is strong and durable, and that it will not emit off-scent properties; in other words, the copper will not transmit any taste or flavor characteristics into the wine. Basically, copper is a sterile metal and like another metal, silver, it is toxic to bacteria.
As a bit of trivia, in recent years over half the copper consumed in the United States has been derived from recycled scrap and this percentage continues to grow.
The Collection: Six Rare and Unique Funnels
This funnel is extremely rare because it does not appear to be the typical funnel shape. This object is hand carved as one single block of wood. It measures 22 inches long by 8 inches wide by 6 inches high. The log-shaped funnel has handles as part of the carving, and one of the handles is suffering from breakage and cracking. It is a very primitive example of an early wine funnel which was obtained from the Georges Dos Santos collection. Remember the discussion earlier of burl wood. Here is the use of it for a funnel. Extremely unique.
Wine Barrel Funnel
Materials: Burl wood, iron
Object ID: WHP-WF8
Georges Dos Santos Collection
As mentioned in an earlier article, It’s Harvest Time, the Georges Dos Santos collection of wine-related antiques and artifacts originally went on sale as early as 2005 in the Napa Valley region of California to eccentric antique dealers and collectors. By 2009, the entire collection went to auction. Jim McCormick, Director of the California Wine Museum from whom we obtained many of the items which are now a part of the Wine History Project collection, was at that auction. So that is how we came to have so many French tools now in our collection.
Copper and tin-lined with strainer and hook. This funnel was found in Sonoma County, California ranch estate. 9 ¾ inch height by 6 ¾ inch diameter.
Wine Bottle Funnel
Origin: San Francisco, CA
Materials: Copper, tin
Object ID: WHP-WF11
From FoundSF historical essay Industry Builds Out the City: The Suburbanization of Manufacturing in San Francisco, 1850-1940 by Richard Walker.
Industry in San Francisco between 1850-1940
The Rincon Hill district, from Market Street to South Beach, and west to Third Street became San Francisco’s industrial zone and was dominated by major machinery and metal-working businesses. There were dozens of these shops, and they included foundries, plating shops, machine shops, and ironworks. Aside from the specialties of equipment for mining which played an important part in revolutionizing equipment for this industry, the district also included shops for flour mills, ship engines, sugar mills, sawmills, farm equipment, and fruit presses. On the east or south of Rincon Hill, one could find planning mills or lumber mills, a cooperate, and several wine warehouses.
One of these companies was La Haye Manufacturing Company which created tools, equipment, architectural metal work, hoods, caskets and gas tanks among other items utilizing aluminum, copper, brass, zinc, tin and iron. In the 1891 issue of Hendricks’ Commercial Register of the United States, La Haye Manufacturing Company had a brass workshop located at 298 11th Street, which was a two-storied concrete shop building. According to the Directory of California Manufacturers, published in 1924 by the California Development Association and the State Chamber of Commerce they were located at 1516 Folsom Street, near 11th Street.
This business was owned and operated by Louis Skerl (b. 1884 Austria) who was married to Frieda Skerl, as we discovered in a 1940 Census. In 1940 Louis was 56 and Frieda was 47 and they resided at 527 Alvarado, San Francisco, California.
This demijohn bottle funnel has a strainer and a hook handle. It was found at a Cloverdale, California estate. Originally a demijohn, or as some called it a “glass balloon,” was defined as a bulbous narrow-necked bottle holding from 1.5-15 gallons (4.5-45 liters) of liquid and was typically encased in wicker, bamboo, reeds, sedges, willow twigs and sometimes leather which was to cover and protect the fragile blown glass for storage and shipping. The demijohn was ideal for the many types of liquids to be transported, such as molasses, cider, olive oil, brandy, rum and sherry. This funnel, made of copper, has a height of 9 ½ inches and a diameter of 6 ½ inches.
Wine Demijohn Bottle Funnel
Origin: United States
Object ID: WHP-WF14
Vintage tin metal industrial wine funnel with a height of 10 ½ inches was used by winemakers to pour their wine into barrels. In French it is known as an ancien funnel de tonneau. The object has a 9 ½ inch diameter with a 3 ½ inch bung hole brace with four holes including a 1-inch drainpipe to insert into the barrel bung hole. The 4 ½ inch pipe insert at bottom of the container inserts to a bung hole for filling the liquid.
The damage to the object is exhibited by the pipe where it is dented (see photo). The screen/filter mesh is no longer in the container before the drainpipe. The round shape at the bottom of the funnel is used to sort of clamp the funnel onto the casks/barrels laying on their side to hold the funnel steady. There is a hook/handle to hang the funnel when not in use. Also, if you look close there appears to be some kind of star with writing etched in above along with a 44 also etched on the exterior of the funnel near the top rim (see photo). Found at a Napa Valley estate.
Wine Barrel Funnel
Date: Late Nineteenth Century
Object ID: WHP-WF38
This funnel has a six-inch diameter of its “oval” shape and has a height of 6 ¾ inch. The funnel shows dents, much patina, and is heavy for its size. From the color of its copper, it appears to be made early to mid-1800s and we took the safe route in acknowledging the date as mid-nineteenth century. Hand-hammered, there are no identifying shop or business markings; it was found in Geyserville, CA. We believe that if it was “cleaned” the copper would be shiny as most people believe copper to be. The unusual form has a small “hanging” handle that has been soldered onto the main body.
From my readings, I could find something similar to this provided by the British Royal Navy during the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries; though their funnels were more refined, were numbered with markings to identify them, and were called “lipped measures”. Lipped measures were made and used specifically by the BRN to ration out the rum to make the grog, it seems. The object in our collection appears to be a primitive version with that similar objective. However, that is just my fantasy.
A tiny bit of soldering information:
When soldering, the metal from one item is joined together by melting and then flowing a filler metal, also known as melting, into the “joint” for the connection. In the late 1800s, the soldering tool itself was frequently called a Copper; made with a wooden or iron handle and copper tip. The type of solder material used was a lead-based solder. Up until the late 1800s the solder iron was heated by open flame or burning coals.
Wine Barrel Funnel
Date: Mid Nineteenth Century
Materials: Copper, Metal
Object ID: WHP-WF41
This copper funnel is made from a sheet copper displaying some patina and has been hand-hammered and hand soldered together both in the funnel itself and in the attaching of the “pipe” of the funnel to the body of the funnel. At the pipe “end” which would be inserted to the bottle or barrel there is a squared-off, rough cut opening. There is a metal wire filter between the body and the pipe. The entire object has a 10-inch height and the circumference at the top of the funnel is 7 ½ inches.
This funnel, with its wide mouth opening conjures the possibility that it could have been utilized for a variety of utilitarian uses: the transfer of wine in a wine cellar, the making of jam and jelly, or even the making of alcohol, wine, cider, or beer during pre-Prohibition and Prohibition days (1900-1930).