Sir Charles Jackson’s unique collection of silver

In 2000, Amgueddfa Cymru learned that hundreds of pieces of rare silver, which had been on loan to the Museum since it first opened its doors, were to be sold.

The items, some of which date back to the 16th century, are from the collection of Sir Charles Jackson (1849-1923), a Welsh lawyer and businessman. Luckily, after much negotiation and fundraising, they were finally secured for the Museum with considerable help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the National Art Collections Fund and the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths.

So why is this collection so important?

Sir Charles Jackson (1849-1923)
Sir Charles Jackson (1849-1923)

Sir Charles Jackson

Sir Charles Jackson was born in Monmouth. He became part of a group of collectors and antiquarians that included Robert Drane, T. H. Thomas and Wilfred de Winton. Together they influenced the development of the Cardiff Museum. They also played a role in making sure the National Museum of Wales would be located in Cardiff.

Remarkable treasures

Some of the objects collected by Jackson are of outstanding aesthetic quality. Rare items include an early 14th century acorn-top spoon, which is one of the very first hallmarked pieces of English silver, and a complete set of 'apostle' spoons (twelve apostles and the 'Master') from 1638.

The most important item is probably a two-handled cup in the 'auricular' style (a 17th century ornamental style based on parts of the human anatomy, particularly the human ear, after which the style is named) associated with the Dutch silversmith Christian van Vianen, who worked for the court of Charles I. Hallmarked 1668, this cup is one of a handful of London-made pieces in this distinctive style. The maker's mark remains unread, but could be either George Bowers or Jean-Gerard Cooques, both goldsmiths to the court of Charles II.

Inspirational rarities

Two-handled cup and cover, London 1668
Two-handled cup and cover, London 1668

Unusual, inspirational pieces in the collection include one of the earliest known silver wine tasters, a 17th century Catholic chalice made in Cork that can be taken apart for concealment, and an inkstand in the form of a library globe. The collection's range of more common objects, such as salt cellars and cream jugs, shows the evolution of shapes over time, and tells us a lot about social customs, particularly relating to dining. The astonishing sequence of spoons contains almost every type made over a period of 400 years.

Unique academic value

Although the collection contains many rare and beautiful objects, the principal reason for keeping it intact is its unique academic value.

Jackson's two principal publications, English Goldsmiths and their Marks (1905) and The Illustrated History of English Plate (1911), are the foundation of modern silver scholarship. In them Jackson relied heavily on his own collection to illustrate marks and the development of styles over time. He corresponded with all the major collectors of his day, and his collection sums up knowledge of historic silver in Britain in the early 1900s. It is therefore a unique reference source and remains the subject of regular enquiries from silver specialists all over the world.

The Jackson collection also complements and enriches the Museum's own outstanding collection of historic silver, much of which is associated with the historic governing families of Wales. The acquisition, after eighty years of display, of half the Jackson collection, and the likelihood that the rest will one day follow, helped the Museum develop its role as the home of one of Britain's principal study collections of historic silver.

Background Reading

Andrew Renton, 'Sir Charles Jackson (1849-1923)' in Silver Studies - the Journal of the Silver Society, vol 19 (2005), 144-6

Article Date: 19 February 2007

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Glossary

Hallmark
Marks or impressions made in metal or silverware that give information about the quality, the maker and sometimes the year it was manufactured. It serves as a form of identification.

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