Sir Percy Zachariah Cox (1864-1937)
Born in Herongate, Essex, the youngest son of Arthur Zachariah Cox and educated at Harrow School and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He joined the 2nd Cameronians, being stationed in India in 1884 and joining the Staff Corps there in 1889. He married Belle, the youngest daughter of Surgeon General John Butler Hamilton, living in India until 1893 when he and Belle moved to Africa.
While successful in Africa, acting as the assistant to the viceroy's agent in Baroda by 1895 it was in 1899 when he accepted an offer from Lord Curzon to become political agent and consul at Muscat, spending the rest of his career in the Middle East. He was a successful diplomat and skilled at promoting the interests of British trade in the region. Perhaps his most memorable achievement was in drawing up the boundaries of the Kingdom of Iraq and installing Feisal as King of Iraq in 1921.
He retired to Britain in 1923 and was given honorary degrees from the universities of Oxford and Manchester.
The nef, from the old French la nef 'a ship', first came into use in the 13th century as a drinking vessel, developing over centuries into more useful receptacles, first for dining implements and later for salt before becoming ornamental, although still intended to be used on the dining table. While there are no known early examples bearing English hallmarks they were certainly known in this country as early as the 14th century when one is mentioned in a list of Royal plate. Amongst the best known examples from an English collection is the Burghley Nef, marked for Paris, 1527, now in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The nef represented a tour de force for the silversmith as craftsmen as well as being one of the most important pieces of silver plate for Princely or Royal collections.
The nef had fallen more or less out of use by the 17th century but was revived in the late 19th century as part of a more general renewed interest in historical forms, an interest which was met by manufactures such as Ludwig Neresheimer & Co., working in Hanau, and the likes of Hermann Ratzersdorfer in Vienna, the first producing elaborate silver examples emulating traditional forms while Vienna became the centre for the production of lavish Renaissance style silver-gilt and enamel-mounted rock crystal objets de vertu, including nefs. Where Neresheimer examples are typically pastiches of earlier styles and Ratzersdorfer marketed his wares as 'the latest in "modern" fashion', albeit in the Renaissance tradition, Ramsden was among the first silversmiths in the 20th century to again view the nef as the tour de force which it was to the 15th and 16th century silversmith. Indeed so important to Ramsden was the Sir Percy commission, and the 'Dream Ship' of a few months earlier, that virtually everyone in the workshop became involved in it's production, with Ramsden himself undertaking the gilding, a rare event for a silversmith who generally took a much more hands off approach to the actual execution of the objects in his workshops.
Given the complexity of this commission it is surprising to see that it was completed in just over eight weeks, having been ordered on 13 December 1922 by Geoffrey Steffenson on behalf of British merchant traders active in the Persian Gulf and completed on 27 February 1923. The speed with which the project was finished can partly be explained by the involvement of so many craftsmen from the studio, including Walter Andrews, Samuel Coles and Robert Massey who are credited with the "making" of the nef, and A. E. Ulyett who chased the sails and base as well as others. The other factor which helped move the project along was it's proximity to the completion of "The Dream Ship" which had been modelled by Sydney Houghton and made for Mr and Mrs. Henry Ford from 14 June to 19 November 1922. That first nef caused a loss of £31-1-6 which must have been very difficult to Ramsden, the astute businessman, to accept. Indeed on the later commission we can see that he very carefully tracked and sheparded the costs to be sure not to make a loss again.