The de Pinna silver cup

The de Pinna cup, a previously unrecorded unmarked silver mounted Chinese porcelain bowl with mounts dated to c.1580-1600. It is estimated £6000-8000 at Chiswick Auctions.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The so-called de Pinna cup, catalogued as dating from c.1580-1600, carries a guide of £6000-8000 at Chiswick Auctions on June 11.

It comes for sale following an examination by a committee of experts and two episodes of testing at Goldsmiths Hall in London.

This is the third time this piece, fashioned by an English goldsmith using a tea bowl imported from Ming China, has been prepared for sale. However, on two previous occasions it was withdrawn following a disparity in opinion over its date. The decision on each occasion was to subject the cup to scientific testing.

Chiswick Auctions’ head of department John Rogers is now confident the item is 16th century.

When the piece was inspected by the Antique Plate Committee in June 2023 it was deemed “an amalgam of different elements, some of which may be older than others”.

Nonetheless, science suggest that all the metalwork is of the period. The first three metal samples taken in August 2023 were compared against a database of results of genuine English pieces of silver at Goldsmiths Hall and found to have a probability of 96.33% for the date range 1500- 1600, with 0% after 1697. A second series of samples taken in May 2024 were again found to have a probability of 99% for the date range 1500-1600.

Furniture dealer provenance

It was early in 2023 that Rogers received an image of the 5in (13cm) high goblet via email. It combines a Kraak blue and white porcelain tea bowl from the reign of the Wanli emperor (1573-1620) with a strapwork and openwork silver mount of a type that was fashionable from c.1580-1600.

The full history of this piece is unknown. However, it comes by descent from Arthur Abraham Clifford De Pinna (1889-1947), a furniture dealer in Piccadilly whose cousin was the London dealer in Oriental porcelain Alfred Samson de Pinna (1868-1963). It shares the same provenance history as a Ming blue and white porcelain ‘canteen bottle’ now in the Smithsonian Museum which was sold by the vendor’s family through Sotheby’s in 1957. 

The de Pinna silver cup

A detail of the de Pinna cup offered at Chiswick Auctions.

It is exceptionally rare for an item of Elizabethan silver mounted porcelain to have remained in private ownership for over a century and not be published.

At a time when Europeans poured and drank from relatively crude stonewares and earthenwares, snow white porcelain imported from Chinese was hugely expensive in 16th-century Europe. The handful of pieces that made the journey to England were held in the utmost esteem and often mounted in gold and silver in much the same way as other ‘exotics’ such as coconuts, nautilus shells or Iznik pottery. Very few pieces have survived intact.

The earliest dated piece of English silver mounted Chinese porcelain is the Lennard Cup of 1569 in the British Museum. Four items of silver-mounted Wanli porcelain once owned by Sir Walter Raleigh are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.