The earliest known of its type, made by the celebrated Hans Maulbrunner in Augsburg c.1614-16, it combines rich chased and cast ornament with a little science.
Combines craftsmanship with ingenuity, it plays a trick on guests by appearing to turn water into wine. But unlike the wedding feast at Cana that inspired it, there are no miracles, only hydraulics and some impressive goldsmithing.
The whole measures just over 12in (30cm) long and weighs around 25oz. As demonstrated by silver specialist Stéphanie Veyron in a short video created by the auctioneers in advance of the November 13 sale, the trick amuses today as much as it might have amazed in the late Renaissance period.
In the presence of bewildered guests, as the host poured water into the elaborate six-cupola-shaped cup, red wine slowly trickled into a gadrooned base and then down the long channel with its spinning water wheel. As well as a Neptune-shaped finial, a tiny silver frog sits patiently waiting to imbibe.
The pouring of water puts pressure on wine already concealed in a cylinder within the upper reservoir causing it to reach an invisible overflow.
Another silver-gilt trinkspiel in the shape of a watermill, also from the Maulbrunner (fl.1608-34) workshop, though slightly later, from 1624-28, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Included in a multi-discipline sale titled simply Excellence, this Sotheby’s example sold toward the top end of the estimate at €175,000 (£159,000), plus 25% buyer’s premium.