The typical 10½in (27cm) George II vessel with marks for Paul Crespin (London 1743) comes with an intriguing early 19th century inscription that points to a deeper history. It reads From Prince Charles Edwd Stuart To Chas Selby Esqr of Earle In Remembrance of His Many Services in 1745 & 1746.
Charles Selby (1702-89) was a farmer from Northumberland and his ‘many services’ included riding sacks of Louis d’ors coins from the Borders to London two years after the battle of Culloden.
The story goes that, shortly after the Young Pretender’s defeat on April 16, 1746, two French ships, Mars and Bellone, docked at Loch nan Uamh on the west coast of Scotland with a cargo of French gold sent by Louis XV to help finance the rebellion. Too late to save the rising, coins to the value of around £35,000 (perhaps £5m today) were entrusted to Ewen MacPherson of Cluny for safekeeping until Charles sent word from impoverished exile in France to recover the hoard.
Selby, a Catholic and Jacobite, was chosen to manage the operation. The gold was smuggled to his farmstead near Wooler and then ridden to London (in two runs) where it was received by clandestine bankers.
Although much of the coinage had been misappropriated in the Highlands, some £6000 was recovered in this way.
Selby refused all payment for risking his life in the cause. Instead, he was given a silver cup which MacPherson had recovered from the prince’s abandoned carriages at Culloden. Around 1760, Selby had himself proudly painted holding the cup and, after his death, his story was finally told in John Burke’s A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain (1837).
Cup and portrait were still in the possession of the Selby family into the last quarter of the 20th century but became separated in the 1990s.
While the portrait has been traced to a family member, the recent history of this cup – of a similar but not identical form to that depicted in the picture – includes two auction appearances in the US. At Christie’s New York in October 2000 – when the Jacobite inscriptions and crest were deemed spurious later additions – it sold for $2350. At Doyle New York in October 2018 it made $4250.
Downer, its owner now, a specialist in silver and historical objects, believes he has finally pieced its story together.
The decoration to the cup – a cartouche with the feathers and coronet of the Jacobite Prince of Wales and ‘Jacobite’ roses – has proved a close match to that engraved on Charles Stuart’s canteen that was captured at Culloden and is now in the collection of National Museums Scotland.
Downer believes the inscription was added by Selby’s son when it was finally safe to do so.
The cup is available for private treaty sale.