Trophies

Think of Wimbledon, the World Cup, and horse racing past and present, think of local swimming galas and gymnastics. What do you get if you win? A trophy usually made of silver or, at the smaller events, electroplate.

The earliest horse racing prizes for major races were sometimes of gold and nearly always in the height of fashion. Nowadays, sadly, glass and other materials seem to have entered the arena and many ’silver’ trophies are poorly designed and actually made of nickel. But the subject has endless fascination for it leads you into so very many activities – archery, curling, flower shows and dog shows – the list is endless.

Trophies can also, of course, mean trophies of war and of education. A school medal for handwriting and the Patriotic Fund vases of the early nineteenth century may seem to have little in common, but both were awarded for personal endeavour, although in utterly different circumstances. One way of honouring great achievement is to award freedom of a town. Boxes of gold or silver, containing the citation, were widely distributed in the eighteenth century and the practice continues today. Some recipients melted the boxes they received and had them made into other plate, such as a salver or cup; boxes that survive are much collected today.

The prizes in lotteries usually included a piece of plate. Tontines, too, went to a winner: the participant who lived longest.

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Photo: Christie’s.
Two-handled cup, silver-gilt, John Wakelin & William Taylor, London 1790. One of several surviving cups for the Richmond Gold Cup, first run in 1759.