Falling in Love

Terzameron Day 18
April 7, 2020

Ben Miller



It’s Ben here once more. This is a story of something wonderful that happened to me; yet I suspect something similar may have happened to you. And if it hasn’t, maybe it will soon, and maybe Shrubsole can help.


Why do we fall in love with certain objects? For a collector, it’s a philosophical question, but for a dealer, it’s an existential one. Hundreds of objects pass through Shrubsole each year, and while we find virtue in each (at least the ones we keep), we, like any enthusiast, inevitably latch on to certain pieces.


A couple years ago I visited a client in England who had assembled one of the world’s great private collections of 16th- and 17th-century silver. He owned dozens of excellent objects and a few extraordinary ones (some of them from Shrubsole). I admired them, appreciated them, and enjoyed them, and above all I enjoyed the conversation: enthusiasts sharing their delight. Picture two Red Sox fans finding each other in a Chicago bar and you’ll have some idea of the fun we had.


But there was one object in the group, the tankard pictured here, that I found utterly irresistable. The form is known as a “hoop” tankard. You can find any number of them from the late 18th century, made by Hester Bateman and others. This one, however, is a century and half older still, dating to 1626. And in every respect, it puts the 18th century examples to shame.


This is the only 17th century hoop tankard—in silver, that is. The form was common in wood, and in fact if you browse old master still life paintings, you’ll find plenty of wooden hoop tankards. They mimic barrels, bound with iron hoops to keep in the beer.


This silver one belonged to the aspirationally-named Accepted Frewen, a loyalist who had his estate confiscated and fled to exile in France. He returned with the Restoration and became an Archbishop and the president of Magdalen College, Oxford. That the tankard survived suggests it must have gone with him to France, one of the possessions so treasured that he couldn’t bear to part with it even in crisis. It’s inscribed with a Latin phrase which roughly translates as, “Drinking in the morning is good for you.” I’d be drinking in the morning too, and the afternoon as well, if I’d been chased out of my country and stripped of my assets.


All this history makes the piece interesting. But what makes it ineluctable is its physicality. Now—describing the color and patina and weight and feel of a piece of antique silver is like explaining color to the blind. So you’ll have to trust me when I say that holding this object is like reading Keats or listening to Bach. Every detail is perfection. It is just large enough to feel right in the hand. The metal’s gauge is heavy enough to satisfy the touch but not taxing to hold. The curve of the handle follows the fingers, leaving exactly enough distance for the thumb to reach and hook the thumbpiece. The engraved hoops are strong and deep but pleasantly soft. The slope of the sides draws the eye across its surface, whose deep and rich color defies photography. The handle, the foot, and the cover are smoothly rounded, leaving no sharp or uninviting edge across the whole object; from every angle and to every touch it is welcoming and comfortable.


On seeing and handling it, I fell in love. So you can imagine my excitement when, sometime later, this collector decided to dismantle and sell his collection. Yes, the tankard came to Shrubsole. And yes, with great pleasure, I’ve drunk my beer from it (in the evening, not the morning, though it may come to that). And when we sell it—perhaps to someone reading this now—I suspect I’ll feel like an animal shelter warden, watching a beloved pet make its way to a happy home.

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