Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Unusual Artifacts: Ostrich Egg Cup and Cover, 1623

Ostrich Egg
Cup and Cover
The Royal
This lovely, though peculiar, gilt cup was presented to the Reverend John Stopes on New Year’s Day, 1623, as a gift of affection for the Reverend who had followed in his father’s footsteps as the beloved Parson of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Old Fish Street (love the name), City of London.

The cup is inscribed:

This Cupp was given to Mr John Stopes our parsonns sonne by the Parishioners of the Parish of St Mary Magdalenes In or neere Olde Fishstreete London for his paines takinge / with vs by his often preaching with vs hoping that he will so friendly accept it as we most franckly and willing meane it The firste day of January 1623.

The object is crafted of a genuine ostrich egg supported by a silver-gilt base and mounts. Atop the cover, a gilt-silver figure of the goddess Minerva stands. Minerva once held an engraved banner which showed the face of Mary Magdalene and the words, “The 4 of october 1577 Mr James Stopes came to be our parson,” in reference to John’s predecessor, his Reverend father.

The cup and cover bears the mark known as “The Trefoil Slipped.” This is the mark of a goldsmith who was in business from 1570-1630. While the goldsmith’s name in now unknown or forgotten, his mark lives on and is prized for the artist’s use of exotic materials such as ostrich eggs, mother-0f-pearl and abalone as well as his masterful gilding.

Somehow, this object came to auction in 1924. The auction catalog lists the piece as having the aforementioned “banner” in the hands of Minerva. However, over the next thirty years, the banner was lost. In 1953, the piece came into the possession of the American Branch of the English Speaking Union and was presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the day of her coronation.

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