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The fashion for mounting jugs in silver or silver-gilt can be dated back to the 16th century with examples in tigerware and Iznik pottery dating from the 1580s (see Christie’s, London, 19 November 2002, lot 144). It was in the last quarter of the 19th century however that silversmiths reached the zenith of creativity with a series of silver-mounted zoomorphic claret-jugs.
It is generally accepted that the silversmith Alexander Crichton started this trend not long after he entered into partnership with John Curry in 1880. Indeed the earliest apparent entry in the design registration records for such a zoomorphic jug was granted on 16 August 1880 to Crichton & Curry for an owl jug, quickly followed by a walrus, a duck and a drake. Other silversmiths followed Crichton’s lead as shown by an design registration grant made to S. Mordan & Co for an eagle on 4 November 1881 (see the online catalogue of the Kent Collection of Claret Jugs). It has been suggested that Crichton’s inspiration for these whimsical creations was the illustrations of Sir John Tenniel’s in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass and indeed claret jugs in the form of the Walrus and the Carpenter are known (see M. Clayton, Christie’s Pictorial History of English and American Silver, Oxford, 1985, p. 288, pl. 10).
While some silversmiths continued producing examples into the 20th century (see Christie’s, London, 26-27 November 2013, lot 488 and lot 302 in the present sale), the greatest volume of production was in the early years of the 1880s. The short period of production and their fragility accounts for the relatively small number of examples that survive.