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The stories behind our listings, news of exhibitions and some heraldic tales

Martyn Downer

Dance to fame: Re-discovered silver from the origins of the Royal Academy of Arts in London

On March 19th, 2014 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

George Dance (1741-1825) was the stereotype Georgian polymath: a talented musician, he was also a highly accomplished artist and City of London dignitary. But his principal fame today rests as an architect. His training in Italy made him an early exponent of the Classical style which came to prevail in 18th century England.  In 1768, Dance succeeded his father as Clerk of the City works so was at the vanguard of the major redevelopment of Georgian London which ensued as uniform terraces, squares and crescents stretched out from the City’s hub. Major London commissions included Finsbury Circus, Newgate Prison, St Luke’s Hospital and the Guildhall. As a City legislator, he defined and initiated planning laws leaving a permanent imprint on London. Away from town, Dance was also sought by wealthy clients to re-model or build country mansions in voguish neo-classical style although his flair for bold, imaginative design made the buildings distinctly and uniquely his own. This confidence and intelligence of Classical vision was passed to Dance’s most celebrated pupil John Soane who built his fame on Dance’s artistic legacy. Highly regarded and well-connected (Haydn was a personal friend), it is unsurprising that in 1768 Dance was sought as one of the forty founding members of the prestigious Royal Academy of Arts becoming Professor of Architecture at the new Academy schools in 1798 (although he never delivered a lecture and was fined for not exhibiting work).

The Royal Academicians in General Assembly, 1795 by Henry Singleton.

The Royal Academicians in General Assembly, 1795 by Henry Singleton.

George Dance depicted centre left, head turned to his right

George Dance depicted centre left, head turned to his right

In later life, Dance drew a series of vivid and revealing profile portraits of his fellow RA members and other personalities in Regency London. These he described as’a great relaxation from the severer studies and more laborious employment of my professional life’ . It was as an able administrator, however, that Dance  best served the fledgling institution. In 1795, together with fellow architect and sculptor William Tyler, he was commissioned to prepare a report on the academy’s parlous finances.  Subsequently both men were appointed auditors working diligently to repair the accounts. On 2nd February 1799, the Council, with Sir Joshua Reynolds as President of the RA in the chair, voted Dance and Tyler a silver cup of the value of twenty- five guineas: “for the very great services they had rendered in investigating and settling the accounts of the Royal Academy up to the present year”. When Tyler died in 1801, Dance continued in the task alone, even after he resigned his Chair in 1805. In 1809, he received a further, larger, grant of £50 for silver in recognition of “the ability and fidelity with which he long discharged the office of Auditor” which was spent on a pair of silver dishes from leading silversmith Robert Garrard. These newly discovered dishes – designed for serving during first and second courses – are decorated  inside and out with Dance’s family crest of a horse’s head wreathed with oak leaves and motto:  Virtutem Sequitur Fama (“Fame follows virtue”) and engraved with the presentation inscription:

Presented by the Royal Academy

to GEORGE DANCE ESQ R.A. 

In grateful acknowledgment of his disinterested services as AUDITOR

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After suffering a stroke in 1815, Dance withdrew from his public and professional life and – having outlived all his fellow founding members of the RA – died ten years later on 14 January 1825. He was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral at the heart of the city he shaped. His silver dishes offer a fascinating glimpse into the early, and often precarious, life of the world famous Royal Academy and into the personalities of its founding members.

Martyn Downer

Of crowns and coronets.

On October 20th, 2013 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Latest News,Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

On 16 June 2008, with fitting symmetry and elaborate ceremony, Prince William, now duke of Cambridge, was invested by his grandmother the Queen as the 1,000th member of The Order of the Garter. The prince joined an illustrious and highly exclusive band of fellow knights, the latest in a line stretching back  to the 14th century when the Order, the most highly prestigious order of chivalry in England, was founded by King Edward III. Limited to no more than just 24 members plus the reigning monarch and prince of Wales,  the Order assembles once a year for the Garter Service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.  Vacancies are filled exclusively by invitation of the monarch with investiture taking place on the morning of the Garter Service in the throne room of the castle. Knights are entitled to wear a star badge, depicting the cross of St George and the distinctive blue riband  of office.In addition, for the Garter Service and other high state ceremonials, they wear a rich velvet mantle, or cloak, emblazoned with the badge of St George encircled with the order motto: HONI SOIT QUI MALE Y PENSE; a velvet Tudor style bonnet, a heavy chain of office supporting a model of St George and the dragon and a velvet garter, again displaying the order motto, around their left calf.  The origin of the garter from which, of course, the Order takes its name, is disputed. The most popular legend involves the “Countess of Salisbury” (either Edward III’s future daughter-in-law Joan of Kent or her former mother-in-law, Catherine Montacute, Countess of Salisbury). While she was dancing at a court ball at Calais, her garter is said to have slipped from her leg. When the surrounding courtiers sniggered, the king picked it up and returned it to her, exclaiming, “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” (“Shamed be the person who thinks evil of it.”), the phrase that has become the motto of the Order .

Following their investiture, knights are allocated a stall in the medieval quire of St George’s chapel.  The stall is marked in perpetuity by an engraved and enamelled nameplate. Above the stall is displayed a carved replica of a knight’s sword, his banner, his helm or helmet and a carved and painted representation of the heraldic crest for the knight’s helmet (or coronet if a sovereign). These symbols directly link the order to its medieval origins when these symbols were used for recognising a knight in the heat of battle. (Until the 18th century, miscreant or treasonable knights were forced to endure a ceremony of degradation watching as a herald climbed up a ladder to remove his  banner, crest, helm, and sword, before throwing them down into the quire. Then the rest of the heralds kicked them down the length of the chapel, out of the doors, and into the castle ditch).chapel-crests4s

On the death of a knight, his insignia are surrendered to the monarch and his banner, sword, helm and crest removed from his stall and returned to his family.  A wonderful exhibition at Arundel Castle, West Sussex is currently displaying some forty five crests and coronets removed from the chapel during the reign of the present Queen, including those of Sir Winston Churchill (invested 1953) Field Marshall Viscount Alanbrooke; Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein; the Duke of Windsor (sometime Edward VIII); the last Emperor of Ethiopia; Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone; the Earl of Longford; and Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (formerly Harold Wilson).

These precious and exclusive family relics are very rarely sold. So we are delighted to offer two surviving examples dating back to the 19th century.

The first is the carved crest of George Robinson, Marquess of Ripon (1827-1909), a distinguished politician and diplomat who was invested as a knight of the Order of the Garter by Queen Victoria in 1869 before taking his seat in stall no.16 on the north side of the quire in St George’s Chapel. The son of a prime minister, Robinson was born at 10 Downing Street and followed his father into politics. He sat in the cabinet of Lord Palmerston (and every succeeding liberal cabinet until his death almost fifty years later) and, when Gladstone came to power in 1880, was appointed Viceroy of India. His wide ranging and exhausting sounding career also encompassed roles as president of the Royal Geographical Society, a trustee of the National Gallery,  chancellor of Leeds University and, before he converted to Catholicism, grand master of the Freemasons in England.

Bronze statue of the Marquess of Ripon in his Garter robes and insignia by Francis Derwent Wood, which stands in Victoria Gardens, Calcutta.

Bronze statue of the Marquess of Ripon in his Garter robes and insignia by Francis Derwent Wood, which stands in Victoria Gardens, Calcutta.

Crest of the Marquess of Ripon, formerly above his stall in the quire of St George's Chapel, WIndsor,

Crest of the Marquess of Ripon, formerly above his stall in the quire of St George’s Chapel, WIndsor,

The second crest was displayed above stall no. 16 on the south side of the chapel belonging to William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne (1859-1942), who was invested by King Edward VII in 1909 (replacing the recently deceased Marquis of Ripon). Selbourne was a liberal politician serving as First Lord of the Admiralty in Lord Salisbury’s cabinet before travelling to South Africa as governor of the Transvaal and Orange river colonies. During the First World War, Selbourne was President of the Board of Agriculture although, as a fervent unionist, he resigned from prime minister Lloyd George’s wartime cabinet in 1916 over the vexed question of Home Rule for Ireland, never achieving high office again.

 

William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne painted in Garter Robes by Philip de Lazlo

William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne painted in Garter Robes by Philip de Lazlo

Crest of William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne

Crest of William Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne

 

 

 

 

 

Martyn Downer

Admiral Lord Nelson’s Nile silver

On May 21st, 2013 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Latest News,Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

 

We are thrilled to have been instructed by the descendants of Lord Nelson to offer for sale the most important item of silver belonging to the admiral still remaining in his family’s collection. The silver entree dish by Paul Storr, London 1800 was presented to Nelson by Lloyd’s Coffee House (later Lloyd’s of London) after the battle of the Nile  in 1798. The dish, which was last exhibited in England in 1891, will be on show on our stand at the Fine Art and Antiques Fair, Olympia from 6 to 16 June 2013. Complimentary ticket to Olympia. It will be a very exciting opportunity to see a magnificent personal relic of one of England’s greatest heroes. Over the last decade, as a specialist dealer, I have handled some of the greatest treasures and artefacts relating to Nelson – from his bloodstained purse to his pocket watch – but the emergence of this wonderful fully documented dish is a landmark moment for students, enthusiasts and scholars of the admiral. A full history of the dish, and of the story of the Nile presentation silver, is published below.

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Admiral Lord Nelson’s Nile silver

I shall take my plate with me: sink or swim it goes with me’.

Admiral Lord Nelson, February 1801

 

 

During the night of 1-2 August 1798, off the coast of Egypt, Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson scored one of the most extraordinary and dramatic victories in British naval history. Leading a squadron of fourteen warships in a highly daring manoeuvre, Nelson engaged the French fleet in fading light whilst it lay at anchor, and apparent safety, in the bay of Aboukir near the mouth of the Nile. By morning, eleven enemy warships were captured or destroyed, eliminating the French naval threat in the Mediterranean and lifting the danger to British and allied interests in the east as far as India. It was a sensational event thrusting Nelson and his ‘Band of Brothers’ of Nile captains into celebrity. They all shared in the rewards of prize money and gold medals but inevitably it was Nelson who was showered with titles and glittering gifts from relieved monarchs and grateful trade interests across Europe. In April 1800, even before Nelson was back in England, the Naval Chronicle published a summary chronicling and valuing this extravagant outpouring.  It included flamboyant presentation swords from Nelson’s fellow officers and the King of the Two Sicilies; diamond set boxes from the Emperor of Russia (value £2500) and King of Sardinia (value £1200) and a diamond and gold walking cane from the Island of Zante. The despotic Sultan of Turkey, being especially thankful for his country’s liberation, was especially generous (even his mother gave Nelson a diamond box). He sent military trophies and decorated the admiral with a Chelengk a fine large jewel designed as an aigrette of diamonds and a traditional award for bravery, though one rarely given to foreigners. So struck was Nelson by this gift that he wore it, in traditional Ottoman manner, on his headgear and, following his elevation the peerage as Baron Nelson of the Nile, incorporated the design as a crest in his newly augmented coat of arms.

Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758-1805)

Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson (1758-1805) painted by Lemuel Abbott on his return to London in 1800 after the battle of the Nile. Nelson is wearing the Chelengk awarded to him by the Sultan of Turkey. Copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

Whilst Nelson remained in Naples following his victory—embroiling himself in a civil war and an affair with the wife of the British ambassador—plans were rapidly advanced in England to rival the generosity of her many colourful allies. It was the merchants in the City of London, so dependent on security of trade in the Mediterranean, who demonstrated their gratitude in the most prodigious manner. The Turkish Company commissioned a silver cup to be presented to Nelson, the Corporation of the City of London arranged a gold and enamel sword, the prestigious Drapers’ Company made him a liveryman whilst the directors of the East India Company voted to give Nelson the huge (and sorely needed) sum of £10,000 in recognition of his achievement. Happily, attention was not solely focused on the admiral but also on his comrades. On 2nd October, the very day news of the victory reached London; the Morning Chronicle published an announcement from Lloyd’s Coffee House launching:

 

A subscription for the relief of the Widows and Children of the Brave Men who fell in the service of their KING and COUNTRY and for such as have been wounded in the glorious victory obtained by the British Fleet, under command of Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson, Knight of the Bath over the French fleet the First of August in the Mediterranean

 

Since the outbreak of war with France in 1793, the merchants and underwriters at Lloyd’s Coffee House in the City of London had subscribed to a series of ad hoc funds to support the wounded and dependents of those officers killed in action at sea and, on occasion, to reward individuals for outstanding bravery or leadership with an award in silver. Naturally City self-interest in granting the awards to promote the protection of British merchant shipping ensured the success of the funds. Nevertheless, in an era of official disinterest in such matters, they were the first organised and sustained attempt to provide for families devastated by war and to reward officers by merit not status.  In 1803 the various subscription funds coalesced into the Patriotic Fund—which continues to this day—under the founding directorship of Sir John Julius Angerstein, a City luminary, former chairman of Lloyd’s and a leading philanthropist of his age. The haphazard nature of the grants were formalised into a graded system of annuities whilst officers meriting individual reward were offered the choice of a specially designed Patriotic Fund sword, silver vase or money to like value.

Angerstein was very well qualified for the task having chaired the funds created after the battles of Cape St. Vincent in 1797 then, a year later, of the Nile.  The greater strategic importance of the Nelson’s victory in Egypt is well illustrated by the disparity in subscription: £2,615 for St Vincent compared to £38,436 eventually raised for the Nile. His first task after the Nile had been to enquire of Nelson as to casualties then came news that the fund committee had voted £500 (approximately £40,000 in today’s terms) to be awarded to the admiral himself specifically for the purchase of silver.  Possibly on account of Nelson’s continued absence in the Mediterranean, his uncertainty as to what to order or delay in the grant from Lloyd’s, it was not until November 1800, and the admiral’s return to London, that Rundell & Bridge, the celebrated crown jewellers on Ludgate Hill, submitted an ‘Estimate for a Service of Dishes for The Right Honble Lord Nelson’.

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Estimate of a Service of Dishes for the Right Hon. Lord Nelson by Rundell & Bridge. Courtesy Sothebys. .

The estimate details eight oval dishes (plates), four circular dishes (plates), four circular casserole dishes with covers and Chelengk crests, and four oblong ‘double’ dishes also with covers and crests, otherwise known as entrée dishes. An accompanying diagram and description of how the dishes could be arranged at table—in the hand of Alexander Davison, Nelson’s friend and agent, who was charged with organising the silver—not only offers insight into the evolution of the order but also fascinating detail into the dining habits of the day. Davison, like Nelson, was a self-made man and the anxiety of both men to imitate the lifestyle of the aristocracy is clearly apparent. The worldlier Davison’s annotated instructions on how to use the dishes reads like an exercise in social manners. So he carefully explains how some dishes are recycled between courses whilst others remain on table. The ‘new pattern double oblong Dishes’ with removable crests serve both purposes as they ‘come on in the first course with covers, which covers take off & are used as Dishes in the second course ’.

 

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Suggested arrangement and use of the dishes on the table. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

 

 

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Invoice for the Nile Service from Rundell & Bridge. Courtesy Sothebys.

 

 

On 20 November 1800 Rundell & Bridge estimated the cost of the service just over budget at £550. Four days later they submitted a more detailed statement, in the form of a pro-forma invoice, for £627.0.2s. As Nelson was in London at this time—he had visited  the City on 6 November, when he likely met Angerstein, and had taken his seat in the House of Lords as Baron Nelson of the Nile on the 20th—there had presumably been a meeting to discuss the service.  The increase in price is accounted for by the expense of two additional oval plates, arranging a ‘strong iron bound Wainscot Chest’ for storing the service (now in collection of the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth) and engraving very lengthy presentation inscriptions on the covers of the eight double dishes. The wording, which was presumably proposed by Angerstein, encapsulates the sentiment of the gift:

 

 

Lloyd’s 1800. Presented by the Committee, for managing a Subscription made for the Wounded and Relatives of the Killed at the Battle of the Nile, To Vice Admiral Lord Nelson and Duke of Bronti (sic), K.B., &c, &c, &c, who was there wounded, As a testimony of the sense they entertain of his Brilliant Services on the first of August, 1798, when a British Fleet under his Command obtained a most decisive victory over a Superior French Force. J. J. Angerstein, Chairman

A13967 Martyn Downer 41355

The ‘4 neat double oblong double dishes to divide & serve for eight’ cost £120.18s.7d. As ‘Modelling & chasing crests for buttons to do to screw off’ cost a further £10.10s 0d; the total price for the four entrée dishes was £131 8s 7d, or the equivalent of about £10,000 today. Despite the significant   over spend, Davison has neatly annotated the bill ‘paid for by Lloyd’s Coffee House’.

Rundell & Bridge gave the work to the workshops of Paul Storr in Air Street Soho, an up and coming silversmith who had also made the Turkish Company cup. Despite Nelson’s entreaties, it took six months to finish the service with Davison patiently explaining in January 1801 that ‘Rundle (sic) and Bridge are exerting themselves to finish your plate, but it requires time, and being confined to a few hands to work upon it’. As the service was of a plain form with conventional gadroon pattern borders, it must have been modelling, casting, chasing and engraving the unusual Chelengk crests for the eight dish covers which took the time. It can be assumed that Nelson showed Rundells his Chelengk—about which there had been a great deal of wild speculation in London— though Storr’s version differs significantly from known images of it. Nevertheless, as the Chelengk was stolen and lost from the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich in 1951, the model in silver gives a tantalising feel of this almost mythical jewel.

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The Chelengk out of a naval coronet is Nelson’s crest on the cover of the dish

On 22 April 1801, Davison finally reported the service finished and being fitted to its travelling case ready for sending out to Nelson at sea in the Baltic.  Embroiled in the bitter separation from his wife following discovery of his affair with Emma, Lady Hamilton; no doubt Nelson wished to keep the silver close at hand rather than risk losing it in possible proceedings. ‘I shall take my plate with me’ he had told Davison in February, ‘sink or swim it goes with me’. Ironically, by the time Nelson took possession of his Nile service, he had earned a second grant of £500 for silver from Lloyd’s Coffee House, having conquered the Danish fleet at the battle of Copenhagen on 2 April. Unlike its bespoke predecessor, however, items for the Copenhagen service were bought from the stocks of a variety of London silversmiths possibly to achieve better value for money and also because Nelson, now enjoying his dishes, needed general items such as plates, sauce tureens and salts to, as he instructed Davison, ‘make a complete set’.

After Nelson’s death at Trafalgar his, by then, very extensive collections of silver (including some 150 pieces by Rundells) were shared out haphazardly between his estranged wife, his brother and sisters, and his mistress Emma, Lady Hamilton. Over the years since, most items have been offered for sale at least once and scattered into private and public collections around the world. But it is the original Nile service, extending to only twenty two pieces by the leading silversmith of his age and Nelson’s first significant award, which retains the utmost scarcity and most appeal for collectors. For instance, in the spate of auctions to coincide with the bicentenary of Trafalgar in 2005, Bonhams in London sold two oval and two circular plates from the Nile service for a total price of £195,600. However, it is the eight principal dishes with their Chelengk (or aigrette) crests which are the very greatest trophies. Their histories after the death of Nelson suggest that they were shared between Nelson’s sisters and his mistress. In 1814, as she faced financial ruin, Emma Hamilton signed a deed of sale for ‘four casseroles covers and aigrettes’. Three of these then appeared for sale at Christies in 1895 at the dispersal of the magnificent collection of inherited Nelson relics and artefacts belonging to Viscount Bridport, the grandson of Nelson’s brother William, Earl Nelson. They were bought by Lady Llangattock who gifted them to the newly established Nelson Museum, Monmouth on her death in 1923. The four ‘new pattern double oblong Dishes’, or entrée dishes, had a more secure future. Three of them, provenanced to the family of Nelson’s sister Catherine Matcham, were purchased for the Nelson Collection at Lloyd’s of London in 1910. The fourth was last seen at the Royal Naval Exhibition at Chelsea in 1891 so its re-appearance is a moment of significant interest to collectors, scholars and enthusiasts of Nelson.

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Further reading:

 

Warren R.Dawson (ed.) The Nelson Collection at Lloyd’s, 1932

Martyn Downer, Nelson’s Purse: The Extraordinary Story of Lord Nelson’s Lost Treasure, 2004

Rina Prentice, The Authentic Nelson (2005)

Leslie Southwick, ‘The Nelson Collection at Lloyd’s of London’, Trafalgar Chronicle, 1996. pp. 71-86

 

Martyn Downer

Silver for sale from the collection of Viscount Exmouth, the real-life Jack Aubrey

On November 29th, 2012 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Latest News,Listed for sale at My Family Silver.

Edward Pellew, a real-life model for Patrick O’Brian’s daring frigate captain Jack Aubrey

Like so many of his naval contemporaries in the late 1700′s, mostly boys from modest family backgrounds, Edward Pellew (1757-1833) had an extraordinary career during the most dramatic years of the Royal Navy’s long existence. Running away to sea aged 13, Pellew soon saw action in the American war  - earning promotion to lieutenant  - then, after catching the Admiralty’s eye in a frigate action, to post-captain in 1782. After a several years “on the beach” during the relatively peaceful years of the mid-1780′s to 1793, Pellew returned to sea earning a reputation in a series of bloody encounters as one of the most brilliant and daring frigate captains of his generation. These endeavours culminated in 1797 when, in company with another frigate Amazon,  Pellew commanding Indefatigable drove a French 74-gun ship of the line onto a sandbank with massive lost of enemy life. The feat earned Pellew command of his own 74-gun warship then, in 1802, of the 80-gun Tonnant which carried his flag when, now promoted rear-admiral, he took charge of the Indian command. This role took Pellew away from the theatre of war for several years until he returned in 1810 first as commander of the North Sea then, the pinnacle of a serving admiral’s career, of the Meditterranean. Following the defeat of Napoleon and the end of the wars with France, Pellew, now Baron Exmouth (1814), led negotiations with the Barbary states for the abolition of Christian slavery. When, negotiations apparently cordially concluded, the Bey of Algiers then brutally ordered the massacre of some 200 Christians  Exmouth took swift revenge leading a squadron to attack the heavily fortified city of Algiers in  a sustained and devastating bombardment which battered the Bey into submission and earned Exmouth heroic status at home. The action was immortalised in a series of dramatic paintings and widely-circulated prints which have sustained Exmouth’s reputation as a fearless and impulsive commander to today. However, it was his career as a frigate captain which, according to a recent biography ( Commander; The life and exploits of Britain’s greatest frigate captain, Stephen Taylor, London 2012) caught the eye of Patrick O’Brian when the novelist was imagining the life of Jack Aubrey, the hero of the “Master and Commander” series of sea novels.  Exmouth is mentioned by name in the books and several of Aubrey’s fictional actions are closely based on his real life escapades though features of other celebrated officers, such as Thomas Cochrane and William Hoste, also figure in Aubrey’s make-up and career.

The bombardment of Algiers by painter Thomas Luny

The wrecking of the Dutton, the real life drama which inspired Pellew’s crest

The son of the skipper of Dover Post office packet, Pellew ended his life as  the much decorated Viscount Exmouth. During his rise, he commissioned a highly distinctive and appropriate crest based on a dramatic recent episode in his career. Described as “Upon waves of the sea, the wreck of the Dutton, East Indiaman, upon a rocky shore, off Plymouth garrison“, the crest captures the moment in January 1796 when the Dutton, laden with troops bound for the West Indies was driven aground on some rocks near Plymouth. As the ship lolled in heavy surf without masts or rudder and facing destruction, Pellew dashed to the rescue clambering aboard, injuring himself in the process, using a rope which had been thrown ashore. Sword in hand, he then quelled the panic of the stricken troops and organised the evacuation of everyone on board, only leaving the ship himself when everyone else was safe.

Distinctive crest of Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth

So I was delighted to identify this wonderful crest, still beautifully crisp, on this small silver slaver made by William Bateman in 1800. Exmouth was awarded considerable amounts of silver during his career, however, the salver is more domestic in nature giving an intimate and fascinating insight into a most extraordinary man.

Salver belonging to Edward Pellew, Viscount Exmouth

 

Martyn Downer

Olympia Winter Fine Art & Antiques Fair

On November 17th, 2012 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Latest News,Out and About.

My Family Silver returned to Olympia this month for the Winter Fine Arts & Antiques Fair, a long standing and popular destination for international collectors (runs till 18 November) . As usual, our stand was very busy with visitors finding (to their delight) their family crest and then registering online to be told when silver appears for sale decorated with it. A large display of our framed book plates drew a crowd, with many people identifying ancestors or recognising the names of friends. At this time of year and costing only £40 or so, they make a great and unique Christmas present.

Our stand at the fair

Our wide ranging sales of crested silver included two Victorian canteens of cutlery, a tea and coffee service, a large salver and many single antique silver spoons etc.  In the other direction, we also purchased from a private collector a good group of Victorian silver clan badges including examples for MacKenzie, Munro and MacDowall. These will all appear on the website short. Yet again, our unique service and fascinating stock of Heraldic silver and artworks proved a great draw at the show. But most of all, it is great to be able to “go offline” and meet customers and friends who may know us only through the website.

Stephen Marsh

“St Lubbock’s Day”

On October 20th, 2012 Stephen Marsh wrote on the subject of bookplates.

I have just listed for sale a mid 19th century bookplate that belonged to Sir John William Lubbock, 3rd Baronet. One of the things that I most like about bookplates are the interesting byways of history into which they lead.  However it is a rare pleasure to find that I owe a debt of personal gratitude for the historical actions of another; a debt shared by everyone in the UK.

Born into a banking family in 1803, Sir John was a distinguished mathematician and astronomer. A fellow of both the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge he became the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of London.

In 1840 he acquired the 3,000 acre High Elms estate near the village of Downe in Kent, where he rebuilt the house in the Italianate style to accommodate his growing family. He had married Harriet Hotham in 1833 and they had nine children.

Three of his sons, Alfred, Nevile and Edgar were to play first-class cricket for Kent; and Edgar was part of the old Etonian team that won the 1872 FA cup final. How wonderful it would be if a school team were to do so again today! Especially as 2012 is the centenary of the birth of J L Carr, who wrote the excellent satire “How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup”.

When in 1842 Charles Darwin bought Down House on the other side of the village he wrote to his sister of Sir John “I believe he is very reserved & shy & proud or fine – so I suspect he will be no catch, and will never honour us”. Ironically when Sir John had heard that Darwin was to become a neighbour he hinted to his family that there would soon be great news. His eldest son later recalled that he hoped that this news would prove to be a pony and was disappointed to discover that it was the arrival of Darwin.

The families became friends and in particular Sir John’s eldest son, also named John, became a frequent visitor to Down House and a close friend and pupil of Charles Darwin, who was to stir his interest in science.

Born in 1834 and succeeding his father as 4th Baronet in 1865 he became, in fine Victorian tradition, a banker and polymath who used the evidence from many disciplines, particularly archaeology (for which he wrote the standard textbooks and established as an academic discipline), to support evolutionary theory of which he was a doughty defender; even taking part in the famous 1860 Oxford evolution debate.

He acquired the Avebury estate in 1871 to protect the prehistoric monuments and it was as Lord Avebury that he took his seat in the House of Lords upon being created a Peer in 1900.

However impressive all this might be I was more interested to discover that whilst sitting as an MP for Maidstone between 1870 and 1878 he was responsible for 28 Acts of Parliament, including the Ancient Monuments Act. But it was one of his first that must surely have had the most significant and lasting impact upon the quality of life of the nation. In 1871 he introduced the “Bank Holidays Act” that established the first ever bank holiday. Widely proclaimed in the press as the most popular man in England (not an epithet that a banker or politician could even dream of today) and there were even suggestions that this August holiday should be proclaimed St Lubbock’s day.

As Punch put it: “How doth the banking busy bee improve his shining house by studying on bank holidays strange insects and wild flowers!”

When you consider that over a full career of, say, 45 years we in the UK will have enjoyed 45 August bank holidays as a result of Lord Avebury’s little act I think we all owe him thanks.

Ps- If any member of the family would like to put  a copy of an image of the 3rd Baronet into the public domain I would be delighted to hear from them.

Pps – Upon his ennoblement in 1900 he was granted the right to supporters for his arms and for this he used the stork from the Lubbock crest.  It is also interesting (to me at least) to compare the arms of father and son.  The husband’s arms are on shown on the left half of the shield and the arms of the wife on the right (it is easy to remember as one’s wife is always right).  In the 3rd Bartonet’s bookplate the arms on the right are those of Hotham whilst on Lord Avebury’s they are those of his 2nd wife Alice, daughter of Gen Augustus Fox-Pitt-Rivers of Rushmore, Wiltshire.

Martyn Downer

Stork hunting in The Hague

On September 10th, 2012 Martyn Downer wrote on the subject of Listed for sale at My Family Silver,Silver Collections.

I love this outsize silver spoon and fork each mounted with a beautifully modelled standing stork holding an eel in its mouth which we have recently listed for sale at myfamilysilver.com.

Dutch silver spoon and fork with stork terminals, Holland 1893

The birds are the heraldic symbol  for The Hague adopted, according to tradition,  because so many white storks nested in the city in medieval times drawn by the rich pickings of the fish markets. Today the stork can be seen across the city on buildings, atop church spires and on a bewildering array of souvenirs and artworks. You can even take a tour of the city specifically focused on hunting down the stork while photographer Frans Schmidt, who has been collecting images of the stork  for years, has recently published “The Hague’s Stork” a lavishly illustrated survey of the symbol in his home town.

The stork emblazoned on the arms of City Hall in The Hague

The spoon and fork were made in 1893 presumably as lavish souvenirs or presentation items to a distinguished foreign visitor as they have export marks. The heads of the storks are hinged to reveal a compartment although I can’t figure out the purpose for this, maybe to hold a liquid or spice?

One of the silver storks, with red glass eyes and showing the hinged head

However, both spoon and fork, which are an impressive 15″ or 38 cm long, are quite impractical to use and were clearly intended for display only.  The lucky recipient took excellent care of them as they are both in perfect condition. They will be exhibited at the forthcoming LAPADA art & antiques fair in Berkeley Square, London W1 which runs from 19 to 23 September.

Stephen Marsh

Engraving a signet ring

On September 8th, 2012 Stephen Marsh wrote on the subject of Introduction,Press and Media,Uncategorized.

We have decided to start experimenting with video clips to answer frequently asked questions and our first one explains how a signet ring is engraved. It is a mesmerising process requiring skills honed over many years. Have a look for your self on Engraving a signet ring. or search under “myfamilysilver engraving a signet ring” in youtube.

As my children were keen to point out (“No offence Dad, but…”) I have a face for radio and a voice for the silent movies and, not being very keen on the hearing the sound of my own voice anyway, I found the recording of the voiceover excruciating. But I am very keen to show people why our signet rings are so well engraved. Our engraver is rather shy and forbade me from showing his face or revealing his name, but the actions of his hands speak for themselves. It takes a decade or so to acquire the skills to become a proficient seal engraver and the artistry required to turn a two dimensional image into a three dimensional mirror image is staggering.

Have a look at the film and see for yourself.

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