Tankard, Germany or Sweden, 1643, Museum no. 31-1953
The body of this tankard is made from serpentine, a hard stone which comes in a variety of colours. Such hardstones were believed to possess miraculous powers to protect against poison. This tankard would have been highly prized. Encasing serpentine in a precious metal like silver emphasised how much one’s health was treasured.
Baby's rattle, silver and bone, England, 1901 (made), Museum no. MISC.90-1963
This baby’s silver rattle is mounted with a teething ring of bone at one end. The other end has a loop for a ribbon or string and terminates in a whistle. Such teething implements, usually sticks or rings, were not only practical aids, helping the baby’s teeth to come through the gums. They were also seen as examples of sympathetic magic. Traditionally made of red or white coral, they symbolised either blood or bone respectively. The use of animal bone or tooth was also thought to confer the strength of the animal to fight off the pain of teething.
Box and lid, Unknown maker, China, 618-907 (made). Museum no. M.125:1, 2-1938
This exquisite lidded box would have served as a container for medicine or a lady's cosmetics. It was made during the Tang dynasty (618-907), an era when China was in close contact with the Middle East and the West and trade flourished along the famous Silk Road.
During this period Chinese craftsmen made a great many gold and silver objects, many of them inspired by arts and crafts of other cultures. This circular box, however, is not influenced by foreign design. Its fine workmanship makes it a precious object in its own right.
Chrismatory, silver-gilt, Erfurt, Germany, 1636, Museum no. 139-1913
This chrismatory is made up of 3 compartments containing holy oils used in the Catholic Church for ritual anointing: Oleum Infirmorum used for the sick, Oleum Catechumenorum used at baptism and Chrisma used for confirmation and ordination. A priest would carry a chrismatory with him when visiting a sick member of his community.
Pill box, London, 1975, mark of Robert Birch. Museum no. 53-1980
Silver pill boxes over the past fifty years have become more of an accessory than a necessity. Functional items in silver have become rarer as silvermithing has become more sculptural. The domed lid of this box, however, is not only stylish but fits perfectly into the palm of the hand making the lid easy to open.
Coconut cup, Dordrecht, around 1576, Museum no. 4893-1858
Coconuts were, from the 15th century, treasured for their healing properties. Silversmiths were frequently called upon to mount coconuts in silver to make tankards, goblets and elaborate covered cups like this one. Drinking from a coconut cup was believed to cure all sorts of ailments such as fever, kidney failure and tapeworm. They were not only restorative. They were also thought to have the added power of being an aphrodisiac!