Rare De Pinna silver and porcelain cup in London sale

Following examination by a committee of experts and testing at Goldsmiths Hall a very rare Elizabethan silver and porcelain goblet comes for sale at auction in London this month. The previously unrecorded piece is expected to sell for £6,000-8,000 at Chiswick Auctions on October 11. 

This is the second time this remarkable object fashioned by an English goldsmith using a tea bowl imported from Ming China has been prepared for sale. Back in March it was withdrawn from an auction following awide disparity in opinion from several respected academics and members of the trade alongside museums and civic institutions. The decision was taken to subject the cup to extensive specialist scientific testing as well as further consultation with museum authorities.  

Chiswick Auctions head of department and associate director John Rogers is now very happy to announce that, following the assessment of the most senior body of silver experts in the UK and date testing, the item has been declared to be 16th century. The three test sites were found to have a probability of 96.33% for the date range 1500-1600, with 0% after 1697.  

John commented: “The De Pinna cup has proven to be the most pensive discovery of my career to date, it challenged what one thought one knew about 16th-century silver, and then challenged many others’ views upon handling it. I am very proud to return it to market with the backing of the most advanced scientific testing available.”

It was early this year that John had been excited to receive an image of the tiny goblet via email. After visiting the seller’s home in Hammersmith the following day, he confirmed the discovery of an important and valuable piece. 

At a time when Europeans poured and drank from relatively crude stonewares and earthenwares, snow white porcelain imported from Chinese was hugely expensive in 16th-century Europe. The handful of pieces that made the journey to England were held in the utmost esteem and often mounted in gold and silver in much the same way as other ‘exotics’ such as coconuts, nautilus shells or Iznik pottery. Very few pieces have survived intact. 

This particular vessel, standing 13cm high combines a Kraak blue and white porcelain tea bowl from the reign of the Wanli emperor (1573–1620) with a strapwork and openwork silver mount of a type that was fashionable from c.1580-1600. As tea was not yet drunk in Britain, it was mounted for use as a wine goblet. Unmarked, it probably post-dates by a decade or so the earliest dated piece of English silver mounted Chinese porcelain (the Lennard Cup of 1569 in the British Museum) and is probably contemporary with the four items of silver-mounted Wanli porcelain once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

The full history of this rediscovered piece is unknown. However, it comes by descent from Arthur Abraham Clifford De Pinna (1889-1947), a furniture dealer in Piccadilly whose cousin was the London dealer in Oriental porcelain Alfred Samson de Pinna (1868-1963). It shares the same provenance history as a Ming blue and white porcelain ‘canteen bottle’ now in the Smithsonian Museum which was sold by the vendor’s family through Sotheby’s in 1957. 

“Secular silver from the Tudor and early Stuart period is renowned for its rarity,” said John. “For an item of Elizabethan silver mounted porcelain to have remained in private ownership for easily over a century and not be published as part of these collections or subsequent scholastic texts is a remarkable rarity.”