Tumbling for Early Silver

By Elizabeth Talbot

A sunny spotlight is to be shone upon shiny metal in the next Silver Sale at TW Gaze Diss Auction Rooms on Friday 1 June. Silver sales feature regularly in the annual calendar of auctions here, and this one is set fair to be full of delightful and choice collectable pieces.

This occasion will be a special treat for those in search of English silver from the reigns of Charles II and George I; two objects submitted from the late 17th and early 18th Centuries are rare finds for collectors and enthusiasts.

The earlier piece is a tumbler cup hallmarked London 1676. Such cups were made from c.1660 through the 18th Century. They are distinctive round vessels with straight sides, usually wider than they are tall and characterised by weight in the rounded bottom which enables them to always right themselves (a little like the once popular children’s toy figures Weebles Wobbles from the 1970’s). They were sometimes made in sets and sometimes used for drinking in moving horse-drawn carriages. There are even a few recorded examples that were presented as prizes for racing and cock fighting. Found in various sizes, from tiny tot size to about 90mm tall they are usually plain, as is the example here, but sometimes bear armorial engraving or decoration such as acanthus leaves or fluting.

The slightly later item is a tea caddy assayed in London in 1724. A tea caddy can be a box, jar canister or other receptacle used to store tea. The word is believed to derive from the Chinese word “catty” or the Malay word “kati”, a measure of weight; a topical reference to the need to weigh tea for trading. Tea in the early 18th Century was exotic, highly fashionable and expensive and there was also a tax on tea, so early tea caddies were small and made in precious materials such as silver, shagreen (shark’s skin) or tortoiseshell which reflected the valuable contents they contained.  This example was made part-way through the reign of George I, but the style borrows directly from the distinctive tea caddies of the earlier Queen Anne period. It is of vertical rectangular form with canted corners; it has a slide-off lid (for easy filling) which is centred by a cylindrical neck (for accurate pouring) with a little domed lid (which acts as a measure for the tea before it is put into the teapot).

Despite their age, condition is good, hallmarks are crisp and they are delightfully tactile. Both pieces also represent objects of desire for collectors, not just of silver but, of specific themes in social history. Drink and drinking through the ages, especially of wine and tea, with all the accompanying accessories and paraphernalia associated with serving etiquette, period styles, social economics, regional customs, etc. has always been a source of great interest. Unsurprisingly, expectations are high for these charming little pieces. The tumbler carries an estimate of £300 – 500 and the tea caddy has been valued at £800 – 1,200.

Meanwhile, the auction contains many more lots of silver spanning the subsequent centuries and providing a delicious array of craftsmanship, novelty, decoration and practicality. This could be the perfect opportunity to buy gifts for pending summer weddings? From cutlery, including beautiful cased carving sets, right through to obligatory toast racks, there are lots of items which would sit comfortably on any present list, with prices ranging from £20 to £1,000. There are candlesticks and table lamp bases, sugar castors and dressing table accessories, substantial drinks trays and the most delicate of bon-bon dishes. For collectors, there are charming vinaigrettes and silver cased pocket watches, including a very smart antique Norwich-named example; plus objects d’art and cabinet pieces.

Everything will be available to view on Thursday 31 May 2pm – 8pm and on the morning of the sale from 8.30am. Further details and catalogues will be posted at twgaze.co.uk.