In his book, Silver Boxes (London, 1968, pp. 16-18), Eric Delieb devotes several paragraphs to 17th century counter boxes, observing that they usually contain between 20 and 37 counters. He quotes the work of the scholar, Helen Farquhar (1859-1953) whose researches convinced her that ‘the superlatively engraved counters found within Charles I ‘’counter-boxes’’ were not, in fact, hand-engraved, as had been quite legitimately believed hitherto, but the work of the clever Dutch medallist Simon van de Passe [1612/15-1647], who had invented a method whereby a steel die was cut and wafer-thin discs of silver were struck with the motifs, thereby imitating engraving by hand.’ But it is now believed that the method of reproduction was very fine casting rather than die-stamping. For further comment, see Mark Jones, ‘The technique of Simon van de Passe Reconsidered,’ The Numismatic Chronicle, London, vol. 143, 1983, pp. 227-230.
Like old spoons, English silver counter boxes of the 17th century have long been of interest to antiquaries and collectors. In the absence of hallmarks, however, their precise dates of manufacture have never been firmly established. Authorities of the 19th century claim them to have been made as early as 1630, as were two examples decorated with the head of Charles I by J.C. Robinson of the South Kensington Museum in 1865 in his Catalogue of the Works of Art forming the Collection of Robert Napier (p. 97, nos. 1166 and 1167). Other, later specialists suggest that such boxes were made in the late 1650s in anticipation of or following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. In support of this theory they point to the number of portraits of kings and queens on the counters, powerful reminders of the royalist message; and cite portraits dated 1657 and 1658 of the murdered Charles I recorded on three English delftware chargers. See John C. Austin, British Delft at Williamsburg, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Virginia, 1994, p. 134, no. 170.
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