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Heraldic Glass

The following article documents the trials and tribulations experienced by a glass collector when identifying an intriguing suite of glassware.

The Provenance Of Heraldic Glass

Glass collectors usually want to know the age, place of manufacture and if possible, the maker of any piece that takes their fancy. With heraldic glass another aspect must be considered – who was it made for? Just occasionally it is possible to identify a family name but rarely an individual. This is a success story which demonstrates how when a lot of research does not pay off all you need is luck.

Pair of goblets with monogram and badge of Earl of Craven c1870.
Fig. 1 - Pair of goblets with monogram and badge of Earl of Craven c1870.

About 12 years ago I bought 4 large heraldic goblets. The dealer had other glasses from the same suite but I could not afford them as well as the goblets. They are of superb quality and are profusely engraved (see fig 1) and have 2 opposing cartouches: the first has a complex monogram surmounted by a coronet (see fig 2); the second has a griffin passent (see fig 3). You don’t often see Griffins these days so let me explain. A griffin is a combination of an eagle (head, wings and legs) and lion (body, rear legs and tail) having the speed of an eagle and the strength of a lion. “Passent” in heraldic terms means facing left with right fore paw raised. The goblets are somewhat taller than usual at 20.2 cms (8 inches) and have a hollow-blown and cut stem. The other glasses from the suite had the same decoration, were much smaller (port glass size) and, if I remember correctly, had a solid, facet cut stem.

It was easy to establish that the coronet was that of an earl (most books on heraldry illustrate the various coronets used in British heraldry). Identifying which earl was another story and after a year or two of library delving I gave up and settled for enjoying the glasses for what they were. And so it would have remained had I not been browsing through David Leigh’s book “Decanters 1760-1930” there was a photograph of a ewer with a familiar monogram “an unusual Victorian square wine ewer with canted corners and engraved with the monogram of the Earl of Craven. c1870.”

Detail from goblet showing monogram.
Fig 2. - Detail from goblet showing monogram.

When I spoke to David he said the monogram spelled out the name. And so it does, albeit, for the sake of symmetry, it is spelled out backwards as well as forwards although it took some time to find the “n” of Craven. I had thought that “Toys R Us” were breaking new ground by reversing their “R” but here was a member of the aristocracy at the same game over 100 years before.

Research was much easier after that. The third Earl of Craven, George Grimston Craven, was born in 1841, married in 1867 and became Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire from1881 until his death in 1883. I would like to think that my 2 glasses and the 100 plus other items in the suite may have been a wedding present. Who knows just who might have drank from these glasses.

And then 3 months ago I could hardly believe my luck when I was able to buy at auction a finger bowl from the same suite, see figs. 4a & 4b. It is unlikely that any of the other bidders knew the provenance of the bowl as the competition dropped out quite early in the bidding. The bowl has four cartouches with a pair of monograms and a pair of engraved griffins.

Just one final point, a clue which supports the view that the suite might have been a wedding present. The badge of the Earl of Craven is a griffin standant (i.e. the griffin is facing left with all 4 feet on the ground). Clearly the glasses have been engraved with grffins passant. Had the Earl commissioned the glasses himself he would have specified the right badge, noticed the error and rejected the suite. However, as a grand present it would have been extremely tactless to point out the error and reject it.

The incorrect badge might also explain why the the suite came to the market. How many pieces are still in existence is anyone's guess. However, having written this little article I suspect I may have a bit more competition should any further pieces come onto the market.

Detail from goblet showing griffin.
Fig 3. - Detail from goblet showing griffin.
Finger bowl showing badge of Earl of Craven
Fig. 4a - Finger bowl showing badge of Earl of Craven.
Finger bowl showing monogram of Earl of Craven.
Fig. 4b - Finger bowl showing monogram of Earl of Craven.



This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the Friends of Broadfield House Glass Museum and first appeared in their 'Cameo' publication.


Please note that the content of this article is the sole intellectual property of the author. No reproduction or reference to the text of this article may be made without the express permission of the author.

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