Owners

If no-one wanted to own objects wrought in silver (or gold), the art of silversmithing would die. Craftsman and patron are mutually dependent on each other.

The reasons why people acquired silver, who they were and where they lived are central to the history of the subject, and are interwoven with social and political history worldwide. Although our interest in silver begins with the objects, their story would be far less absorbing without the machinations, scandals, and everyday activities of their owners. Did they acquire these objects by purchase, gift or inheritance; or were they a lottery prize or perquisite of office - was it new, or secondhand?

Fortunately it has long been the custom to engrave silver with armorials and inscriptions, and because of the inherent value of the material, it is usually recorded in household inventories and accounts of the wealthier households and institutions.

To be able to trace the history of an object through armorials, find a portrait of the owner, visit his or her house, read their letters and diaries, and trace their possessions in their archives - to be able to visualise where and how their epergne, teapot or snuffbox, was used - is a fascinating pursuit. And rarely, oh so rarely, there exists a painting showing an owner with a piece of plate that survives today.

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Photo: Sotheby's