In 1825, Thomas Sandeman (of the famous port family) established a small shop in Perth, trading as a whisky merchant. He was joined by Arthur Bell, who, by the late 1840s, had become sole partner. Bell was a cautious, modest, highly moral man - a member of a religious sect whose motto was 'work to the best of your light and play fair’.
He was one of the first to recognise the potential of blending malt and grain whisky. “Several fine whiskies blended together please the palates of a greater number of people than one whisky unmixed", he wrote. His confidence led him to appoint a London agent for his brands as early as 1863 - the first whisky firm to do so and he brought in his sons, Arthur Kinmond and Robert, to look after the domestic and overseas markets respectively. By the I880s the firm's focus was blended whisky. A number of blends were offered, but Arthur Bell's modesty prevented them registering a brand under the family name until 1896 - "I have long adopted the practice and allowed the qualities of my goods to speak for themselves", he said. Arthur Bell died in 1900. Robert went to Australia and New Zealand and also established agencies in India, Ceylon, Italy and France. A.K. Bell ran the business in Perth, and made a lengthy trip to North America in 1908. But Bell's remained a small brand compared to the Big Three.
Under the chairmanship of William Govan Farquharson - described as ‘the last whisky baron'- Bell's joined the big league. Farquharson had joined the company in 1942, the year that both the Bell brothers died. He began to promote Bell's Extra Special more vigorously, advertising under the slogan ‘Afore Ye Go' in the USA and at home. By 1970 it was the leading brand in Scotland, and a decade later the leading brand in the U.K., a position it still holds. In 1985 Bell's was acquired by the Guinness Group, which two years later took over DCL to become United Distillers.
It was in the 1920s that the idea of a bell shaped Decanter was first conceived. It began life made out of blue glass in a rather more traditional Decanter shape as a specialist item and, by the 1930s, the concept had developed in design. It was then being made in porcelain and, although the colour was still predominately blue, it looked more like a bell.
By the late 1940s, the Decanters were produced by a small firm of fancy goods manufacturers called Carvendale's who had a little factory in Edinburgh's Thistle Street. The designer was Rolly Carter. Who, observers of the Edinburgh social scene in the late sixties and early seventies will recall, was the proprietor of the famous and colourful Jolly Carter's, also in Thistle Street.
These Decanters were made individually by hand, no easy task when the volume of each one had to be exact. This work was subcontracted to a firm in Peebles, run in those days by a Polish ex-prisoner of war. Each Decanter was made from self-coloured pottery, hand lettered in gold, and each was complete with clapper attached to the bottom.
In the early 1950s, Royal Doulton, a famous name in porcelain manufacture, had taken over its production and a brown and gold Decanter had been introduced. A unique blend of especially selected whiskies was specifically created for it and, in 1959, a pint size version was developed to add to the existing bottle size. In 1960, the manufacture of these two sizes had been taken over by Spode, another well-known name in the pottery industry. Demand for the product was increasing and it was becoming a familiar sight in outlets around the world.
It was in 1966 that the third famous porcelain manufacturer, Wade, took over production of the Decanter and, as sales continued to develop, special lines had to be installed at the Wade factories in Stoke and Portadown. In the early 1970s the quarter bottle was introduced, and the family was completed in 1979 with the production of the miniature Decanter.
In 1988, the revised range of Bell Decanters was introduced containing Bell's Extra Special Blended Scotch Whisky with a new bell shape, very similar to the Bell's Extra Special neck tag, and new colours of tan and cream reflecting the Bell's House style. The Decanters are still made for United Disillers plc by Wade Ceramics plc and are hand-finished with 24 carat gold. Each comes packed in a presentation canister with a carry cord. The range size is 75cl, 37.5cl, and 18.75cl. A 12 year old has been added to the range.
The first four in a series of Christmas Decanters has been produced which are trimmed in dark green. The theme of the 1988 issue was ''We Wish You A Merry Christmas'', the 1989 edition depicted a Perth Winter Scene and the 1990 edition featured the Blair Athol Distillery. The 1991 Decanter continues the Art of Distilling theme and shows a picture of a Still Room and is in the new 70cl size. The 1992 Decanter is a new design with a predominately rich green finish portraying the Art of Cooperage and is the pattern for the next four years, thereby making another series of four. The 1993 edition illustrates the Maltmans Art whilst the 1994 shows the Blenders Art. The final Decanter in this series , 1995, depicts the Cellermans Art.
Another new series was introduced for Christmas 1996, this time in the 'house colours' of United Distillers. The Decanters are mainly cream with a rich dark red at the shoulder and are hand finished in 24-carat gold The 1996 depicts the Ingredients of Quality and the 1997 the Eight Core Whiskies of Bells eight year old.
In the 1980s, an interesting and attractive addition was made to the family with the production of a white porcelain Royal Wedding Decanter to commemorate the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana on 29th July 1981. This limited run item was so popular that the complete stock was sold within months, with a large proportion going to overseas markets. With the birth of Prince William on 21st June 1982, Bell's decided to introduce another commemorative Decanter, this time in a 50cl size, and again in a limited edition.
Since then, Bell's have continued the tradition of commemorating special occasions in the lives of our Royal Family with limited edition Decanters for the birth of Prince Henry (15th September 1984), the Queens 60th Birthday (21st April 1986), Prince Andrew and Miss Sarah Ferguson's wedding (23rd July 1986), the birth of Princess Beatrice (8th August 1988) and finally, Princess Eugenie (23rd March 1990). August 1990 saw the issue of a Decanter to mark the Queen Mother's 90th Birthday.
All except the Prince William and Prince Henry Decanters, which were 50cl, were produced in the 75cl size
A Decanter to celebrate the Golden Wedding Anniversary of The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh (20th November 1947) has also been produced, this time in the 70cl size. All these Royal Decanters in their striking white colouring are prestigious additions to the range and are in keeping with the quality and tradition of their predecessors.
Following a change in the E.E.C. legislation, with effect from 1 May 1991, the fill levels of Decanter bottlings have been changed. The 75cl size has been discontinued and is replaced by a 70cl Decanter. Because of the prohibitive costs the 37.5cl and 18.75cl sizes have been phased out and not replaced. [The 70cl Decanter was subsequently discontinued (early 1995).]
Bell's Decanter Christmas 2001
The first instalment in the Decanter series celebrating great Scottish inventors.
In this Christmas 2001 edition: Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of phone
Size: 70 CL