MADE in 17th century Gdansk or Königsberg at the very height of the amber working trade in Europe, this delicate chalice with silver-gilt mounts shot to £210,000 at Lawrences latest sale in Crewkerne, Somerset.
The cup, standing 8¼in (21cm) high with a 5in (13cm) diameter
bowl, was carved from warm golden amber and decorated with panels
of floral scrolls, alternating with male and female portraits above
swags of fruit - perhaps emblematic of marriage.
The stem was carved as a figure of a kneeling man, while both
the foot and the rim were mounted with silver-gilt.
In construction it follows a technique developed in the
amber-making centre of Königsberg in the 17th century. Rather than
carved from a single nugget of fossilised resin, this was fashioned
from thinly-cut plates of amber, decorated in low relief, and then
joined together using adhesives.
Similar examples (including those forming part of the Waddesdon
bequest in the British Museum and another in the Grunes Gewolbe,
Dresden, have been ascribed to the maker Jacob Heise, a member of
the amber workers' guild formally established in 1641, who worked
for the court in Königsberg from 1654 to 1663.
Artefacts made of 'Baltic gold' were fashionable among the
highest classes of society.
This cup had been in the possession of the Bailward family at
Horsington Manor, near Templecombe, Somerset, since the 19th
century and the auctioneers had long known of its existence. The
bowl and stem have long been separated from the foot and were held
together by Blu-Tack to enable a good photograph to be taken.
The estimate of £15,000-20,000 for the sale on October 11
acknowledged the damage as well as the rarity.
Over a dozen telephone lines booked by British and Continental
dealers and collectors were reserved for it. After a lengthy tussle
the cup was bought by a UK dealer for £210,000 (plus 19.5% buyer's
By Roland Arkell