Antique Betjemann Tantalus


2015-06-26 11:15:17


A Betjemann tantalus is a patented design of two or three decanters that are locked in a wooden case. The concept was that the contents could always be viewed but not opened or poured unless the case was opened by a key.

History & Description

The Betjemann tantalus was invented by George Betjemann, grand-father of the noted English poet and broadcaster, Sir John Betjeman, in 1881. It was once thought that the Betjemann tantalus was designed in order to prevent a household’s butler from stealing or sampling the decanters’ contents.

However, it is much more likely that the bizarre yet ingenious Betjemann tantalus was just another novelty device that became popular with the affluent middle-class of the late-nineteenth century.

Guide for collectors

Antique Betjemann tantaluses are extremely popular collectors’ items and are frequently sold through both national and international auctioneers. The price of a Betjemann tantalus is determined by its age, condition, the sophistication of the patent locking system and the quality of the glass decanters.

The most valuable Betjemann tantaluses are those that were made in the late-nineteenth century. In addition, collectors should look out for glass decanters that were manufactured by R. Wilke Ltd. as these represent the earliest examples of Betjemann tantaluses.

Notable auction sales

On October 25th 2005 at Christie’s in London, a Victorian coromandel Betjemann tantalus, retailed by Mappin & Webb, circa 1890, realised a price of £2,160.

On July 3rd 1991 at Christie’s in London, a Victorian Betjemann gilt-bronze tantalus, retailed by Mappin & Webb, realised a price of £748.

On January 22nd 1990 at Christie’s in New York, a Victorian Betjemann silver-plated and oak tantalus, circa 1880, realised a price of $1,150.

On June 4th 2011 at New Orleans Auction Galleries Inc. in New Orleans, Louisiana, a George V Betjemann silver-plated tantalus, circa early-twentieth century, realised a price of $1,100.

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