THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE MAZER-BOWL
For collectors of Tudor works of art the mazer-bowl epitomises the period. Fully hallmarked examples are extremely rare. The form, a wood bowl usually of maple wood mounted with silver, silver-gilt or even gold, appears in engravings and inventories as early as the late 13th century, however, the earliest known surviving fully hallmarked example is the Tatham mazer-bowl of 1507, once in the J. Pierpont Morgan collection. The Elizabeth Wood Mazer-Bowl of 1527 is one of the very few fully marked examples not in a collegiate, corporation or museum collection.
The term mazer derives from the Middle High-German ‘mase’ or Old High German ‘másá’ meaning ‘spot’ alluding to the use of bird’s-eye maple for the bowl. The bowls were usually shallow, the finer examples with mounts of precious metal. A number were further embellished in the centre with an ornamental boss or print, sometimes referred to as a frounce in early documents. The boss could be engraved with the sacred initials IHS or with a multitude of heraldic devices or symbols relating to the foundation or individual to which they belonged. The boss of the Elizabeth Wood Mazer-Bowl is rare as it retains some of its translucent enamel decoration. The device it depicts is thought to be a pomegranate, which symbolised resurrection with its classical association to Proserpina and her return from the Underworld.
As noted above the form of the mazer-bowl developed from the late 13th century onwards. A study of monastic records and wills by W.
H. St. John Hope in his exhaustive study of the form ‘On the English Medieval Drinking Bowls called Mazers’, a paper first read at the
Society of Antiquaries in 1886, (Archaeologia, 1887, vol. 50, pp. 129-193), provides a survey of their use and distribution. He noted that monastery of Christ Church, Canterbury possessed 182 mazers in 1328, similarly Battle Abbey’s inventory of 1437 records 32. Many of these mazerbowls were listed by name - St. John Hope cites examples such as ‘Bygge’, Pylegrym’, ‘Austyn’ and ‘Hare’, presumably relating to either the donor, the inscription on the mount or the ornamental boss in the centre of the bowl. Hope lists many examples recorded in wills from the mid 14th century onwards.
Although mazer-bowls can be found as late as the early 17th century the numbers found in wills and inventories begin to decline by the mid 16th century. Philippa Glanville in the chapter on mazer-bowls in her exhaustive study of the silver of the period, Silver in Tudor and Early Stuart England, London, 1990, pp. 225-233, attributes this to the increasing fashion amongst the aristocracy and the court to favour wine over beer. She notes the absence of mazer-bowls in noblemen’s inventories of the period and the decline of examples listed in wills of the time. Those that have survived were often retained as relics of their owners in livery companies, civic corporations or churches. Many were used in annual ceremonies, their archaic form lending a sense of history and continuity to the proceedings. Such an example is the mazer-bowl St. John Hope records as being owned by King Edward VI’s Almshouses in Safron Walden. An historical relic by the mid 17th century when the celebrated diarist Samuel Pepys drank from it, recorded in his diary entry for 27 February 1659/60.
‘…my landlord carried us through a very old hospital or almshouse, where forty poor people was maintained…They brought me a draught of their drink in a brown bowl tipt with silver, which I drank of, and at the bottom was a picture of the Virgin and the child in her arms, done in silver.’
The ‘masyr wt sylver and gylt’ is found in an inventory of the foundation as early as 1524 and well into late 19th century it remained in use being given to the Governor to drink from on the occasion of the annual election and on other times for the town’s people to drink from on the payment of a shilling.
THE HISTORY OF THE ELIZABETH WOOD MAZER-BOWL
Unrecorded until its appearance at auction in 1905 the Elizabeth Wood Mazer-Bowl has been prized by a number of the great silver
collectors of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is probable that it was acquired in the 19th century by William Johnston F.R.A.S (b. c. 1823-1907) the father William James Johnston Vaughan (1845-1928), the vendor of the mazer-bowl in 1905 Christie’s auction. James Johnston was born in Dumfries but travelled south to Gloucester as a young man. He was a keen amateur astronomer and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. He established a renowned business dealing in antiques and objets-de-vertu and counted General Augustus Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers (1827-1900), founder of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Cambridge and many American collectors as his clients. His second son James, who later took his wife’s name Vaughan in addition to his own, worked with his father in his early years but left to find fortune in South Africa serving in the Diamond Field Volunteers. On his return to Gloucester he served as Alderman and Mayor and pursued his antiquarian interests.
When sold by Johnston Vaughan in 1905 the mazer-bowl fetched the considerable price of £500 and was purchased by the leading dealers of early silver Crichton Brothers. It was presumably from them that the Countess of Milltown (1841-1914) acquired it. The daughter of Leicester FitzGerald Charles Stanhope, 5th Earl of Harrington she married Edward Nugent Leeson, 6th Earl of Milltown in 1871. Their marriage was childless and after the Earl’s death she presented the contents of Russborough, the family’s Irish seat, to the National Museum of Ireland in 1901 as a memorial to her husband. She spent many years creating a magnificent and wide ranging silver collection which included, amongst many other pieces, a pair of exceptional Elizabeth I fagons of 1597, now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York and the magnificent turtle tureen by Paul de Lamerie, now in the Kahn Collection, (Christie’s, London, 9 July 1997, lot 179). The countess’ ownership is recorded by her crest and coronet engraved on the mount. Her collection was inherited by her nephew who entered it for sale at Christie’s once more. It then passed into the collection of George Lockett (1855-1923), a prominent figure in the polo and four-in-hand coaching world, whose family fortune had been founded on the South American nitrate trade. His collection was sold at auction following the death of his widow in 1941.
By 1957 the mazer-bowl had almost certainly passed through the hands of one of the greatest 20th century silver dealers, How of Edinburgh. The company had been founded by Commander George How (1894-1953) in 1931. He was joined in 1935 by Jane Penrice Benson (1915-2004), who was to become his second wife. Mrs How further established the firm's reputation. During her long career she dealt with many of the greatest works of English silver, selling to the world’s top museums and collectors. The mazer-bowl’s hallmarks appear in the Hows’ ground-breaking and seminal work English and Scottish Silver Spoons, Mediaeval to Late Stuart and Pre-Elizabethan Hallmarks on English Plate. Mrs How also staged the hugely successful and influential Toronto exhibition which included the mazer-bowl, Seven Centuries of English Domestic Silver, which was held in 1958. The Toronto exhibition catalogue records the mazer-bowl as coming from the G. H. Cookson collection. Gerald Cookson (1925-2000), a direct descendant of the 18th century Newcastle silversmith Isaac Cookson, was a renowned biochemist, industrialist and collector of early silver. Many pieces from his collection were illustrated in the Hows’ publication. It was from his collection that the mazer-bowl was sold in 1999.