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Close-up on An Art Deco Classic: The Master Incolor Cocktail Shaker

This is the first in a series of short illustrated articles on Art Deco items.

The idea is to focus upon a classic piece of design that generally doesn't feature in the usual coffee table books and doesn't cost $1000s. This week, a classic cocktail shaker.

The Master Incolor Cocktail Shaker was manufactured in England circa 1935 and is a classic of Art Deco streamlined design with several unique features. These features are not the sole reason for writing this article however. First of all, the item pictured and described below is from my own collection and one I bought several years ago in a small antique center near Wales. I've seen a few others since, and notably one was featured two years ago on an episode of Flog It (one of several television antiques reality shows in the UK.) Estimated to fetch around £60 by the show's expert it sold for £350 (approx. $588) hammer price or £423 actual buyer’s price. Earlier last year, one sold on eBay for £750 (approx. $1,195). Now the interesting thing here is that the one on eBay was noted as being damaged - the strainer had come apart at the seams and the spout cap was missing. The missing spout cap was not mentioned by the vendor who may not have been aware that the shaker originally had one. It was unclear whether the one sold on Flog It was complete or not (they did not go into any detail) and certainly, it is doubtful if the owner would have known one-way-or-the-other.

It's at this point things start to get interesting. Firstly, an orange version the same as mine was sold at Christies, South Kensington, London on 29th October 2008 for £1,125 hammer price (approx. $1,800) against an estimate of £1,000 - £1,200. Secondly, a pair - one in black and one in red - sold again at Christies in March last year for £2,750 (approx. $4,384). This brings me to my first major point in that classic shakers come in several parts, each of which are liable to get lost over time. And as they were originally intended for regular use, shakers can be prone to damage as well as general wear. This reminds me of that tin that most men have on a shelf somewhere; destined to hold things that may come in useful someday (old keys, nuts, washers, etc.). My point being, if you should happen to have or come across a Master Incolor that appears damaged beyond repair, don't trash it! My guess is that there will be someone out there with a shaker missing a part or two. Put it on eBay or in auction "as found" and you might find that your odd piece of "may-come-in-useful someday" might be just the bit someone is going to pay good money for. Just in case you do come across one of these, here's what I know about the Incolor, what it should consist of, and how it was designed to work:

Manufactured from molded Urea-formaldehyde (a variant of Bakelite) with silver plate fitments and trim, they came in a variety of colors: black, ivory/cream, green, blue, and orange/red. The shaker base - below left - has the following molded details.

The shaker itself consists of seven separate (detachable) pieces, all of which come apart for cleaning purposes: (1) The main Bakelite body, (2) The twist fit top with integral spout and silver plate trim, (3) A revolving recipe drum, (4) A silver plated cap that also acts as a measuring cup, (5) A large internal strainer to aid in perfect mixing and straining, (6) A circular knurled nut to secure the recipe drum, and (7) A silver plated cap which goes over the top of the spout. The main body and the strainer are self-explanatory but below are two pictures showing the drum and cup:

  

The rotating drum displays eight popular cocktail recipes of the day: Bronx, Whiskey Sour, Side Car, Orange Blossom, Manhattan, Tom Collins, Dry Martini, and Clover Club. The measuring cup of 1 Gill is internally marked with measuring lines for ease of use. When pieced together, you simply twist the cup to rotate the recipes thus:

  

The integral (termed "magical") spout designed to ensure no spillage was clearly a key part of the patent and appears to be unique to the Master Incolor so I've pictured it from the bottom and top with and without the cap:

    

Here is what it looks like in two parts:

When all put together, it stands 29cm tall and you put it on a suitable period cocktail tray with some glasses, muddlers, 1930s silver champagne swiveller, and in my case with a silver plated hors d'oeuvre swan (patent awarded to Emil A. Schuelke for The Napier Co., U.S.A. October 22nd 1935), and you're ready to party!

It is easy to take apart and clean, works exceptionally well, and a joy to look at. Just remember to replace all the bits after cleaning (not in a dishwasher please) and don't drop it on a tile or stone floor as Bakelite doesn't bounce that well. If the latter does happen and you have shelled out £1,000, you'll definitely be either: (a) crying into the bottom of a Martini glass, or (b) rushing around trying to locate all the missing bits.

Sometimes it's the price you have to pay.

Bon Aperitif and kind regards,
Mike

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