The inventory of furniture at Althorp compiled by the 'Curator' 7th Earl Spencer notes the bill for cleaning the mounts:
"May 1790, John King: - For cleaning and laquering the brass work of a mahogany waiter.......3s/-".
This work was carried out at the same time as John King delivered a sideboard and '2 Mahogany Angle Sideboards' for the 'Eating Room West' at Althorp (see The Althorp Attic sale, lot 119).
This George II oval cistern, inspired by silver prototypes and enriched with Bacchic ring-bearing lion-masks, was probably supplied by the Court cabinet-maker Benjamin Goodison (1700-1767) of the Golden Spread Eagle, Long Acre, London. Goodison and the upholder Richard Truelove were engaged to draw up an inventory of Althorp in 1746, and although no bills survive for this period, it would seem Goodison would not have been invited to do this unless furniture had been obtained from him (G. Beard, C. Gilbert, Dictionary of English Furniture Makers, Leeds, 1986, p.352). Stylistically dating from 1735-40, this 'Roman' wine-cooler with Bacchic lion-paw feet would certainly have corresponded with the coffered architecture of Colin Campbell's Wotton Hall at Althorp. This magnificent room, commissioned by Charles, 5th Earl of Sunderland and intended as a Saloon/Banqueting Hall - as with the contemporary Saloon at Houghton Hall, Norfolk - was probably finished by Roger Morris and completed shortly after 1733, the date of the Wotton hunting pictures. In 1734, Charles, 5th Earl of Sunderland succeeded as 3rd Duke of Marlborough and quit Althorp - leaving the house to his brother the Hon. John Spencer, favourite grandson of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough.
The link with Goodison therefore almost certainly comes from beyond Althorp. As successor to James Moore from 1726-7, Goodison became cabinet-maker not only to the Court but also to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, for whom he supplied furniture to several houses. Significantly, in 1739, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough's daughter Isabella was left a widow; as a result, the Duchess purchased a house for her in Dover Street, London, and Goodison was engaged to supply furniture to the tune of £1,915 in July 1740. Tantalisingly the itemised bills from Goodison, cited extensively in Earl Spencer's article in Country Life, 13 March 1942, do not appear to have survived in the Spencer papers - but it is almost certainly as a result of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough's legacy, either directly or financially, that this sumptuous wine cooler found itself at Althorp.
In its overall design - with gadrooned oval body standing higher off the ground - and satyr-mask headed legs, this wine cistern represents an important evolution from the low-slung cistern prototypes - and heralds the sophisticated coolers-on-stands supplied subsequently by Samuel Norman and Thomas Chippendale in the 1750s and 1760s. Perhaps the best documented examples of the more ponderous, low-slung model are that supplied by John Hodson to Blair Castle, Perthshire in 1738 (A. Coleridge, 'John Hodson and some Cabinet-Makers at Blair Castle', Connoisseur, April 1963, p. 225, fig. 4); another from the collection of Colonel William Stirling of Keir, sold in these Rooms, 15 November 1990, lot 60, as well as that probably supplied to James Herbert for Tythrop House, Oxfordshire, sold from the Messer Collection in these Rooms, 5 December 1991, lot 101 (£165,000). These all display the powerful panther-paw feet.
Interestingly, the distinctive lion-mask handles were also extremely advanced - Thomas Chippendale himself employing the self-same metalwork on the wine cooler supplied to Dumfries House much later in 1763 and again in 1768 to Canons Hall (C. Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale, Leeds, 1978, p. 79, fig. 122-3). These same handles also feature on the wine cooler at Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire, supplied to 3rd Duke of Ancaster and recorded in the 1813 Inventory as 'An Antique carved frame on carved Claw feet finish'd as Bronze containing a leaden cooler, with a brass gallery round the top'.
This type of wine cistern was originally conceived in silver as the centrepiece for a great dining room buffet or display of plate. The cistern, as its name suggests, was originally conceived to hold water used for the rinsing of glasses and for cooling the glasses prior to them being refilled with wine. Often a wine fountain accompanied the cistern, which would have acted as a reservoir for the water. The glasses would have been rinsed beneath the tap and the water collected in the cistern beneath - although cisterns were also used for the cooling of wine flasks or bottles in water or ice.
The use of a cistern for dining dates back to the 15th century as illustrated by Dr. N.M. Penzer in his article, 'The Great Wine-Coolers I', Apollo, November 1955, p. 3, with a woodcut from Michael Wolgmuth, Schatzbehalter oder Schrein der wahren Reichtmer des Heils und ewiger Seligkeit, Nuremberg, 1491. However, the huge quantity of silver used in the manufacture of silver wine cisterns made them an attractive prospect for melting down. Changes in fashion and the demands placed on Royal and aristocratic plate collections, for economic reasons or war, has meant no pre-Commonwealth English examples survive. However, with the Restoration and Protestant ascendancy, the great Huguenot silversmiths once again supplied commensurately grand silver cisterns to the great aristocratic patrons - including the Dukes of Portland, Rutland and Devonshire.
During the 17th Century, however, cisterns also began to be made of other materials - not only pewter but also pottery, tôle and timber. These early examples were oval in shape and often on four feet formed as lion paws, as shown in a painting from 1616 of Ladies and Gentleman Carousing, by Dirk Hals. This basic form was the inspiration for the Althorp cistern.