Signet ring

This signet ring features the arms of Sir Richard Lee, a distinguished military engineer and architect. On the inside is an enamelled grasshopper, the badge of a merchant called Sir Thomas Gresham.

There are six other examples of ‘grasshopper’ rings. They were probably all gifts commissioned by Gresham for prominent associates.

Signet ring

 

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Signet ring

England, about 1554-75
Gold with chalcedony intaglio
Bought with funds from L.C.G. Clarke
V&A: M.249-1928

Sir Thomas Gresham

 

Gresham was a successful merchant and the royal agent in Antwerp from 1551 to 1564. Near the end of his career, he used his fortune to found the Royal Exchange and endow Gresham College in London.

It is thought that he gave the seven surviving ‘grasshopper’ rings in order to nurture good relationships with key figures in Elizabethan society. It was common to give rings as gifts in this period.

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Sir Thomas Gresham

About 1565
By an unknown artist
Oil on panel

National Portrait Gallery, London