Coconuts, also called 'Indian nut' or 'nut of the sea', were not only a very rare and exotic commodity in Britain in the late 16th and early 17th century, but they were also believed to have medicinal and magical properties; consequently, the rare few which arrived on these shores were often crafted into drinking vessels mounted in silver or silver-gilt. They appear as prized objects in the kunstkammers of the time and also feature in allegorical still life paintings. The work above from the 1650s by the Haarlem artist Willem Claesz. Heda (1594-1680) depicts a silver mounted coconut cup beside a casket filled with symbols of earthly wealth and an hourglass, alluding to the passing of time and man's inability to take their riches beyond the grave.
This cup is a rare example of a Scottish mounted coconut, the attribution having been made though an analysis of the style of the ornament and the composition of the piece. Most notable is the use of die-stamped motifs on the border of the foot, reminiscent of work found on three cups dated 1621 and sold by Christie's South Kensington, 29 June 1999, lots 90, 91 and 92, now in St Michael's Parish Church, Inveresk. The profile of their feet and stems are similar to the present lot. Parallels can also be drawn between the distinctive waved edges to the three straps which hold the nut, and the straps of the Fergusson Mazer made in Edinburgh in 1576, together with work found on the Tulloch mazer of 1557 and the Galloway mazer of 1569, both marked for Canongate and illustrated in Ian Finlay's Scottish Gold and Silver Work, London, 1956, pl. 23. Further stylistic analysis of the chased strapwork and scrolls on the foot of the cup point to similarities with the chased work on the McLeod Cup from the late 16th century, Finlay, op. cit., pl. 26. Furthermore, spectrographic testing of the silver itself gives a reading of 870 standard, which equates most closely to the Scottish standard of the time.