Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mastery of Design: Silver Gilt Snuffers, 1547-1553

Cast, Silver Gilt
The Victoria & Albert Museum
This striking silver gilt object is perhaps not immediately recognizable to modern eyes though we can guess that this is something that’s meant to be used with candles. Chased and beautifully engraved, on the handles the objects reads “GOD SAVE THE KINGE” while the back reads, “EDWARDE WYTHE ALL HIS NOBEL COUNCEL.”

These are snuffers. Snuffers were used, as we could have guessed, to maintain candles by shortening the wicks to prevent them from burning too fast. Snuffing candles was an important task in homes well until 1820 when the advent of the smokeless wick made snuffing unnecessary. These ingenious tools featured blades to trim the wick while the heart-shaped box held the cut-off ends.

This particular example dates between 1547 and 1553 and bears the arms of Edward VI along with the inscriptions noted above. Edward VI was the only surviving son of Henry VIII. He reigned from 1547 to 1553 and was succeeded by his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth.
These snuffers were passed down through the family Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector. Edward Seymour who was the brother of Jane Seymour, the King's mother and one of the many wives of Henry VIII.

Surviving items from the Tudor Court are rather rare. Furthermore, they demonstrate the attention to detail that was lavished by the court goldsmiths on small domestic items. We tend to forget that such detail was essential to objects as early as those created in the Sixteenth Century. Since the snuffers lack a hallmark, it is probable that these were a special order for the court and not sold to the general public.

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