HOUSEHOLD PLATE

The varieties of household plate made during the seventeenth century are somewhat disappointing ; they were few in number and their uses were limited. The earlier part of the century was a period of evolution ; new ideas were accepted slowly. In the beginning of the century the greater stores of plate were to be found in the colleges and in the possession of civic authorities and trade guilds. There must have been large quantities of old silver in the treasure chests of the nobility, too, and in many an old castle and mansion vast quantities were secreted. No doubt much was in bad condition, and when new vessels, spoons and table plate were wanted some of the old silver was reshaped and hammered into what was then the prevailing style, as influenced by the changes gomg on. During the great " melting times " silver plate of which we have now no record was destroyed, and the marks and names of old silversmiths upon many of the pieces perished. Early in the century domestic plate was doubtless Elizabethan, and the most prominent piece on the table was still the standing salt. In the Court there was much splendour, for some magnificent pieces of plate in the form of silver tables and table services were made. It was when English nobles entertained their new King James that some impetus was given to the use of silver plate. James loved to visit his people in their own homes, and apparently on those occasions the possessors of silver dishes, plate, flagons and cups of various kinds displayed them on the table and sideboard. It was during then that great silver jars and silver furniture was made for Knole House and other mansions which the King visited. Most of these large pieces of old plate have gone into the melting pot ; there are, however, still many cups and tankards which can be traced back to those days. Some are in national collections, a few are still in the hands of the families for whom they were originally made, but most of such pieces of rarity have changed hands many times, and when they come under the hammer realise high prices, for the cost of old silver goes up by leaps and bounds ! As time goes on the weight, size and shapes alter ; in Tudor days everything was strong and substantial like the oaken furniture then in use, but in the seventeenth century lighter silver began to take its place. When the royal exchequer was empty Charles I sold much of the Tudor plate which was very massive, and had lighter silver made for his table. The great standing salts gave place to smaller pieces and the variety of silver table appointments increased. The time soon came when large flagons gave place to porringers and caudle cups, but most of those still extant, dating from the days of the Common-wealth, are substantial in type and plain in ornament. Not long ago the increased value of plate of this period was illustrated in one of the London auction rooms. Cromwell gave his daughter Mary, on her marriage to Viscount Falconberg, a silver-gilt porringer and cover costing then a few pounds. It changed hands at the sale mentioned for more than a thousand guineas. The florid style of the Restoration imparted strength although the cups were not weighty, the repousse decoration adding to its substantial feel and strengthening it in utility. Much of the decoration used by silversmiths in the reign of Charles II was in accord with that which the King had favoured during his stay in exile in France and it may be said to have been derived from French designers and followed their style and influence.

When any of the little porringers of the period of Charles II come into the market, there is keen competition for their possession. The exceptionally fine piece shown in Figure 12, measures seven inches in height, and was hall-marked in 1678. The ornamental acorn knobs, well-modelled heart-shaped handles, and foliated ornament round the bottom, are all typical of the florid style of ornament then so popular. Another feature about this beautiful cup is the low relief engraving of the crest and wreath in the accredited style of the Restoration period. This cup is in the possession of the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths' Company, by whose courtesy it is used as an illustration of that period when so much new silver was made, and so many of the now scarce antiques were being fashioned. c p~ t r