You say demijohn and I say carboy


This year I decided to have more of a focus for my, hopefully, many trips to the vide greniers of south west France.  So, I decided to create a Pinterest board to help me to focus.  You can see the board here, hopefully, by pasting into your browser.

As I said in my last blog, the weather last week was awful, so the first vide grenier was this Sunday and then again on Monday.  And lo and behold, I found one of the items on my hit list.  The ever so humble demijohn or is it a carboy.

  According to the word ‘demijohn’ appears in the early 1700s. While large blown European bottles existed from as early as the 1400s.  It is suggested that perhaps the word demijohn comes from the Persian glass-making town of Damaghan.   Other sources trace the origin to a corruption of the French, dame-jeanne.

The origin of the name demijohn appears to have been a conumdrum back in the days when it was first being used too, as can be seen by this 1883 newspaper article (Ann Arbor Courier, July 27, 1883):


The characteristic that seems to distinguish these types of bottles from any others, is the fact that they were wicker covered. Early Egyptians also covered their bottles with papyrus and this could then have spread from Egypt to Persia then to Europe and across to America.


But is there a distinction between the term demijohn and carboy?  In it is sighted that a poem in “The Port-Folio” April 30, 1803 speaks of “Carboys Of Vitriolic Acid, For Old Bachelors” while the “The Emporium of Arts & Sciences” Philadelphia September 1, 1812 relates a story on ‘The Ignition of a Carboy of Aqua Fortis’ which burst into flame. When the burnt remains were examined, the writer referred to “…the remains of the straw and basket.” So like demijohns, carboys were wicker encased bottles.  Furthermore in the “Saturday Evening Post” of Oct 13, 1821 it mentions 50 carboys of Oil Vitriol and 10 carboys of Aqua fortis. Oil of Vitriol was sulfuric acid and Aqua fortis was nitric acid.  From these literary examples, one could perhaps conclude that the two terms are differentiated by their contents.  Demijohns for “potable” non-corrosive liquids and Carboys for strong acidic chemicals:

But, do we really care about the name when these huge glass bottles are so attractive just as pieces of objet d’art?


 What was once simply created as a receptacle for the transportation of liquid is now holding pride of place as a treasured decorative object.  Any interior decorators dream item.  Big, bold, vintage and with a real history.  They can also be up cycled into light fittings or lamp bases.



And, does anyone remember the terrarium? It is a tiny conservatory, with an ecosystem all of its own, a garden in a bottle. According to plants were kept under bell-shaped glass jars for exhibit as early as 500 B.C. The Wardian fern case was invented by accident in 1827 by a London doctor named Nathaniel Ward whose ferns were dying from the fumes of London’s factories. He also studied moths and caterpillars and while observing a cocoon in a covered jar, he noticed a fern had grown in a bit of soil at the bottom of the jar. He concluded that plants could flourish in London if they were protected under glass and named his discovery fern cases. They actually looked like mini greenhouses but in the 1970’s amateur botanists began growing indoor gardens inside giant wine bottles which were also fashioned into lamps and coffee table bases.


A friend of mine has a beautiful example of one of these vintage bottle gardens.



And when you just want some to place around the house, just simply to look lovely, well take a look at these.

vintage-decoration-demijohn-carboy-12 vintage-decoration-demijohn-carboy-10 vintage-decoration-demijohn-carboy-9 vintage-decoration-demijohn-carboy-7 vintage-decoration-demijohn-carboy-6 vintage-decoration-demijohn-carboy-2 vintage-decoration-demijohn-carboy-1 vintage-decoration-dame-jeanne-demijohn-carboy-7

And these are the ones that I have found at vide greniers in South West France.  One still has its protective covering of wicker and straw while another still has some of its liquor in the bottom.




wicker carboy

Of course if you aren’t into truffling around a vide grenier, where you will definitely get your hands dirty, you can always take a trip to Maisons Du Monde, this shop is for those who prefer vintage style, rather than true vintage.  One which is no where near as nice as it is in such an artificial colour, will set you back 59.99 Euros.





10 thoughts on “You say demijohn and I say carboy

  1. Lovely pins.
    I used to have a terrarium & funnily enough been considering making a new one!
    I like Maisons du Monde for when I can’t find the authentic vintage version of what I want, and their fair trade policies are to be applauded.

    Good luck, ( Chiner, chiner all the way…) I plan to visit as many vide-greniers as possible this summer, as we mover toward the finishing line



  2. I always thought the demijohn was the word for the 1 gallon bottles I used to use for wine making & carboy for the larger bottles for acids etc – which is what mine was originally. The photo looks good – better than I thought it would.


  3. Those are all so pretty! I love the idea of storing corks in them. I save wine bottle corks but don’t have a good spot to store them. Glad you found such a pretty one, Sue!

    Liked by 1 person

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