The inscription reads 'Legacy left by M.M. by N.S. Minister decesed 1680'
When this tankard was offered for sale in 1917 and 1942, it was accompanied by a replica, made by Ambrose Stevenson, in 1708. The base of this replica was engraved 'The value of this left E.M. by Lady E.B. as a Legacy'.
These inscriptions refer to the Smith family of Annables, co. Hertford and the Morris family of Loddington, co. Leicester. A descendant of the family, C. S. Morris, of Raxawn House, Mundesley, Norfolk, sold the takard and the later replica at Chrsitie's in 1917.
The Morris family are first recorded at Loddington in the 1670s when a John Morris, described by J. Nichols in The History of Leicestershire, vol. 3, p. 1135 as 'an opulent upholsterer of London', purchased the estate from Sir John Prettyman Bt. The Rev. W. G. Dimock Fletcher in Leicestershire Pedigrees and Royal Descents, 1887, p.177 suggests that John Morris bought the estate for Captain Robert Morris (d.1676), as the latter is described as Lord of the Manor of Loddington on his death in 1676.
Captain Robert Morris (d.1676) was the second son of Nicholas Morris of Ashcott. Both Robert and his elder brother Thomas were citizens and skinners of London. Thomas was admitted to the Skinners Company in 1634 and Robert was apprenticed to him in 1638. Robert died in 1676 and left a widow, Margaret (d.1702), daughter of Edmond Smith of Annables co. Hertford. Her father had a brother, Nicholas Smith. Little is recorded about him in the Smith pedigrees however, a Rev Nicholas Smith was vicar of Braughing, co. Hertford from 1660 until his death in 1680. The inscription on the tankard recording the death of 'N.S. Minister' as 1680 and the initials MM suggest that the tankard was a legacy bequeathed to Margaret Morris by her uncle Nicholas Smith.
Margaret Morris was left £250 and an annuity of £150 in her husbands will. His considerable wealth is demonstrated by the legacies of £1,500 he left to the second son Edmond and £1,250 to his third and fourth sons.
The eldest son Charles Morris (1662-1710) inherited the Loddington estate. He married Susannah, second daughter of Sir Edmund Bacon 4th Bt. (d.1685) by his wife Elizabeth, daughter and co-heir of Sir Robert Crane Bt. of Chilton (d.1642). Charles and Susannah had three sons Edmund, Charles and Bacon. The EM refered to in the inscription on the later replica tankard of 1708 is for Edmund Morris (1687-1759). 'Lady E.B.' who left the legacy which is recorded on the replica tankard was Elizabeth, Lady Bacon, Edmund Morris' maternal grandmother. Lady Bacon's will, which was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 21 January 1702/3 records the legacy,
'I give unto my grandsonne Edmund Morris my silver tea pott'
Edmund Morris would have later used the teapot as payment for the fashioning of the replica tankard, recording his grandmother's legacy in the same was his paternal grandmother had recored her uncle's gift The complicated provenance, bound by two legacies, underlines the importance that the Smith and Morris families attached to the tankard, Its survival in the family until 1917 stands testament to this.
The unusual form is derived from wood and leather drinking-vessels of the 15th and 16 century. The contsruction, which the simulated staves and reeding imitate, is directly related to the leather bound wood tankards which were commonly used throughout Europe as a domestic drinking vessels. Such a tankard was salvaged from the wreck of Henry VIII's flagship Mary Rose, which sank of Portsmouth in 1544. The wooden staves are bound by leather strips and the interior would have been made waterproof by the application of pitch.
Similar tankards, which imitate everyday examples can be found in contemporary invertories of the day, such as that found in the Master's Plate Inventory of 1589 for Peterhouse College, Cambridge University.
'Item a tankard barrad lipt and covered v ounces
Item a white horne tankard with a cover barres and lipt
double gilt vl ounces xxis.'
The bellied form of this tankard perhaps also owes something to the stoneware or leather 'Blackjack' flagons of the time, as illustrated in A. D. Burton, The English Wine Bottle, Christie's Wine Review, 1981, p. 99, pl. 1