International Exhibition, London, 1862. A massive Victorian silver pilgrim flask, C.T. & G. Fox, London, 1858, retailed by Lambert & Rawlings
The Sneyd Heirlooms, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 24 June 1924, lot 115
Ross S. Sterling (1875-1949), Governor of Texas, 1931-33, founder of Humble Oil and Refining Co. (acquired by Standard Oil of New Jersey, 1959, merged in 1973 with Exxon, now ExxonMobil); bequeathed to his daughter,
Mildred Sterling who in 1925 married the architect, Wyatt C. Hedrick (1888-1964), and thence to their daughter,
Jean Hedrick Darden (d. 2012)
In its obituary of Mr. Sneyd, The Birmingham Daily Post observed that, ‘The family of the deceased has been settled in Staffordshire over seven hundred years, and is, in fact, one of the oldest in the country. The family escutcheon bears a fleur-de-lis, in commemoration of one of its members having distinguished himself at the well-known battle of Poitiers . The deceased, who was a scholar, and well known as a man of great taste in literature and arts, built the present hall, which is a very fine structure . . . [He] leaves a brother, the Rev. Walter Sneyd, of Denton House, Oxford, who has issue, one son and four daughters.’2
Ralph Sneyd inherited from his father an impressive quantity of silver, some of which had been bought new from Garrard’s. This included a pair of large soup tureens, covers and stands in mid 18th Century style, London, 1810.3 It is not clear whether other, older items in the Sneyd collection of silver were purchased by Ralph Sneyd or his father; either way, the new Keele Hall was a perfect setting for such treasures. Among them was a Queen Anne ten-light chandelier, Daniel Garnier, London, 1691/97,4 and a set of four William III wall sconces, Philip Rollos, London, 1700, the latter bought from the Royal Collection in 1808 by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell.5 A pair of baskets, Paul de Lamerie, London, 1747, were also in the collection, both of which are engraved with the Sneyd arms.6
With these and other examples of display plate, it is not surprising that in 1858/59 Ralph Sneyd, his new mansion nearing completion, decided to add this present enormous pilgrim flask to his collection. For their part, Lambert & Co.,7 the firm from whom the flask had been purchased, were proud enough of their silversmith’s workmanship to borrow it for their display in 1862 at the International Exhibition. Featured at the very centre of their cabinet, it was one of the wonders of Class XXXIII, the section of the exhibition devoted to works in precious metals.
The Times correspondent was impressed: ‘Mr. Lambert exhibits what may be termed a very fine collection, in which everything shown is the best of its kind [including] some very large pieces of plate, gigantic flagons and silver bottles (the latter exaggerations of the form of Marlborough’s silver bottle).’8
The mention of ‘Marlborough’s silver bottle’ actually refers to this present flagon, which is an enlarged copy of the so-called ‘Churchill’ pilgrim flask, standing 41cm. (16in. high), maker’s mark only of Pierre Platel of London, circa 1710, which was given in 1927 to the Victoria and Allbert Museum.9 It is engraved with the original coat-of-arms of General Charles Churchill (1656-1714) as well as the slightly later arms of his elder brother, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722). The whereabouts of this Queen Anne masterpiece in the 1850s is something of a mystery. Presumably, however, it must have been seen by Lambert’s for their silversmiths to study prior to making copies.10 The ‘Churchill’ flask subsequently came onto the open market in 1892 when on 27 May it was sold at Christie’s as ‘the property of a Gentleman, deceased’.
Compared with the Sneyd flask’s glittering setting at the exhibition of 1862, it was made in far less salubrious surroundings: the busy factory in Queen Street (now Bateman Street), Soho, run by Charles Thomas Fox (1801-1872) and his brother, George (1814-?1900). Lambert’s and Fox’s were therefore less than a quarter of a mile apart.
The well-established connection between the two businesses has long been recognized;11 Lambert’s had employed the Fox brothers’ grandfather and father, Charles Fox senior and junior, as manufacturing silversmiths since at least 1829. Much of the Fox’s output was inspired by Lambert’s stock of antique plate, particularly English, German and Dutch of the 17th and early 18th Centuries. This explains why the latter’s exhibit in 1862 includes so many examples of silver in retrospective styles, among the most striking of which were recreations of large richly embossed vases and ginger jars, copied from originals of the time of Charles II.
Fox’s excelled at this type of work and were not daunted when required to produce the colossal. In 1852 they, or, rather, Lambert’s had been praised for two large covered parcel-gilt flasks, both about 63cm. (24 ¾ in.) high, which had been shown the previous year at the Great Exhibition and which had won for the retailer a Prize Medal.12 The South Kensington Museum, predecessor to the Victoria and Albert, had bought one of these flasks for £128 8s.13
As a final point, the Sneyd pilgrim flask belongs in a relatively small group of 19th Century silversmiths’ work: exceptionally large and expensive objects made only for the very wealthy. Early examples were Rundell, Bridge & Rundell’s Shield of Achilles and Green, Ward & Green/Benjamin Smith’s Wellington Shield, both of 1822, which seem to have set a trend for outsized silver, tailor made for stately mansions such as Keele Hall. Given that the Sneyd flask was of a pattern first made popular in the late 17th Century, it is fitting that Victorian silver fashioned on the heroic scale should have recalled the days of Charles II and William III.
In his review of the Restoration silver in ‘The Age of Charles II’ exhibition at London’s Royal Academy, which opened in December 1960, Charles Oman remarked that, ‘When the extravagant use of silver during this period is mentioned, it is easy to interpret this as meaning that a lot of people were using more silver than heretofore. Though this is true it is necessary also to realize that extravagance also took the form of ordering very large pieces.’14 So it was throughout Queen Victoria’s reign. Even as late as 1891 we find that R. & S. Garrard & Co. were commissioned to supply a massive silver pilgrim flask, the same huge size and of a similar antique design as Mr. Sneyd’s, for presentation by a group of European royalty as a silver wedding gift to the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia.15
1. Officially he was described as an ‘iron & coal master, & iron founder’ (William White, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Staffordshire, Sheffield, 1834, p. 644).
2. Birmingham, Friday, 29 July 1870, p. 3e
3. These are now in the Jerome and Rita Gans Collection at the Virginia Museum of Arts (Joseph R. Bliss, The Jerome and Rita Gans Collection of English Silver, New York, (1992), pp. 192-195, cat. no. 67; Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 24 June 1924, lot 86.
4. Now at Colonial Williamsburg, accession no. 1938-42; Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 24 June 1924, lot 82
5. These, which are first mentioned in the Sneyd family papers in 1849, were acquired in 1938 by Colonial Williamsburg (by whom two were sold in 1972), accession no. 1938-35,3; Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 24 June 1924, lot 79.
6. Colonial Williamsburg, accession no. 1938-41, 1; Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 24 June 1924, lot 62
7. Styled Lambert & Rawlings until 29 April 1861
8. London, Friday, 3 October 1862, p. 9a
9. Accession no. M.854&:2-1927. The donor was the art collector, Claude Dickason Rotch (1878-1961)
10. A few are known, including the pair to this present example (Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 24 June 1924, lot 115), and another, smaller (40cm., 15 ¾ in. high), C.T. & G. Fox, London, 1870, retailed by Lambert & Co., engraved with the arms of the Earls of Ducie.
11. John Culme, The Directory of Gold & Silversmiths, Woodbridge, 1987, vol. I, pp. 162/3 and 281/3
12. Reports by the Juries, London, 1852, p. 516
13. Accession no. 2743-1851; it is at present displayed in the museum’s British Galleries, room 122g, case 9.
14. ‘Restoration Silver at the Royal Academy,’ The Burlington Magazine, February 1961, 44
15. English Silver Treasures from the Kremlin, A Loan Exhibition sponsored by Sotheby’s, London, 1991, p. 190, no. 111