The Ruddspeed Decanters
Sept/Oct 2018 edition
Issue #1 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
Within modern technology, one of the newest forms of security and identification is facial recognition software. From smartphones to tablets to criminal investigations, the fact that all our faces are unique provides an instant method for positive I.D.
In the world of automobiles, ‘facial recognition’ has been with us from the outset. Beginning as entirely utilitarian devices, car’s radiators and grilles evolved into objects of great beauty, carefully styled to provide instant notice as to the identity of manufacture. The grilles and radiator shapes became so iconic and identifiable that who could fail to recognize a pre-war Bugatti, Bentley, Alfa Romeo, Maserati grand prix car, or Mercedes-Benz speeding toward them? Even today, a glance in our rear-view mirror confirms immediately that an approaching, black, twin-nostril grille belongs to a BMW; instant recognition.
In 1945, in a disused stable in Worthing, England, Ken Rudd, a rather successful racing driver who eventually had stints at LeMans, opened a tuning shop catering to owners of Austin Healeys, Volvos, Alfa Romeos, and AC cars. The shop prospered until Ken Rudd’s passing in 2010; the firm still exists, providing tuning and restoration on vintage racers, and will soon release a factory replica of an AC Ace competition car available to enthusiasts.
Sometime in the 1960’s, Ruddspeed became involved in the manufacture and distribution of a series of beautiful radiator-inspired liquor decanters, which were sold by high quality British retailers such as Harrod’s of London, and others. The particulars as of this writing remain rather murky; an American equivalent scenario would have been if Carroll Shelby had produced a set of fine automobile-inspired tableware, distributed through Neiman Marcus!
The decanters themselves are fully functional, with glass-lined interiors and ‘radiator cap’ stoppers. A total of five different decanters were produced, representing Bentley, Rolls-Royce, SS Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, and Bugatti. Each is heavily chrome-plated and the Mercedes-Benz, Bentley and Jaguar models feature intricate and beautifully executed mesh grilles, while the Bugatti has a black, perforated insert and the Rolls Royce incorporates the vertical bars or vanes of the full scale car.
The Mercedes-Benz certainly has the most intricate grille of the group, featuring a delicate stamped grid pattern which angles rearward from a central spine. An implied chromed ‘crank handle’ cover resides near the base, and a lovely cloisonné Mercedes-Benz badge rests below the radiator cap, which is surmounted by the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star. Inclusion and condition of the star hood ornament is critical to the value of this particular decanter, as in many cases it is damaged or missing entirely. The same holds true for the Rolls-Royce decanter, as the Spirit of Ecstasy ornament is often missing or damaged. Ruddspeed did however simultaneously produce a Rolls Royce decanter which has a simple, cylindrical cap devoid of ornamentation, and consequently of lesser current value.
All five decanters are adorned with lovely cloisonné miniature marque badges, which are very finely detailed, and in some examples, are gently curved to match the underlying radiator shape. Each radiator cap is uniquely styled and sized, and complements its decanter perfectly.
Although a number of copies of the Ruddspeed decanters have been created over the years, the genuine article is not hard to identify. Each has a metal backing plate which contains a cut out ‘sight glass’, whereby the level of contained liquid can be determined. Above the sight glass, the text ‘Ruddspeed Ltd., England, Reg. Design’ should be stamped into the metal. If the text is missing, you can be sure it’s a phony. The Bugatti decanter was later copied by a French firm, and it is fairly exacting, but the black perforated mesh of the grille is replaced by a chrome version. These may be offered as ‘Ruddspeed’ , but they most certainly are not. One may also find the Bentley examples appearing with either a black or green wire mesh grille. These are genuine, and were produced concurrently.
The Ruddspeed decanters represent a rare and attractive example of automobile design incorporated into everyday objects. They are lovely pieces to display, either singly or grouped, and a collection of all five is simply a ‘holy grail’ aspiration for serious collectors. As with all rarified collectibles, condition is everything. Expect to spend around $1000 for a Ruddspeed decanter with perfect chrome, hood badge and screening. The Mercedes version is doubtless the most complex, and fine examples have changed hands at auction for around $2000. Prices begin to lower dramatically for any decanters with pitted chrome, missing ornamentation or visible damage. Originally, the decanters were sold with a green or blue padded clamshell box, but with the ravages of time, these are exceedingly rare.
To read more great columns like this one from automobilia expert John Lutsch...
John C. Lutsch is the owner of Aeromobilia.com, an internet-based purveyor of unique automobile and aviation-related art, models and rare treasures for the collector and enthusiast.