The arms are those of Birch, as borne by Charles Birch (d. 1780) of Woodford, Essex, and London, and his wife, Sarah Creed.
These urns match the well-known Kedleston urns, a set of three commissioned by Nathaniel Curzon, first Baron Scarsdale, for his Adam-designed house in Derbyshire. The Kedleston urns, also by Courtauld and Cowles and dated 1771, are now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The design of these urns is characteristic of the antiquarian movement of the period, and their specific form derives from ancient Greek vases in the celebrated collection of Sir William Hamilton. The shape of these urns was inspired by examples published in d'Hancarville's Collection of Etruscan, Greek, and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Honorable William Hamilton. The publication of this catalogue in 1766 helped popularize the antiqÿe style, and in the introduction, d'Hancarville wrote, "we make an agreeable present to our Manufacturers of earthenware and China, and to those who make vases in silver, copper, glass, marble, etc. Having employed much more time in working than in reflection, and being besides in great want of models they will be very glad to find more than two hundred forms . . . they may draw ideas which their ability and taste will know how to improve to their advantage, and to that of the Public." Josiah Wedgwood promptly produced six basalt-ware vases based on one of the Hamilton lebes-form urns (v. II, pl. 31) in 1769, and exhibited them in London. The form was a commercial success, inspiring further ceramic adaptations, and Wedgwood's caneware version at the British Museum is identical in form to the Courtauld and Cowles examples in silver, both apparently based on another lebes in Hamilton's catalogue (v. IV, pls. 84, 85). (See Leslie Campbell Hatfield, " A Set of English Silver Condiment Vases from Kedleston Hall," in Bulletin, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, vol. 79, 1981, pp. 4-19.)
The engraved decoration of the Kedleston urns was based on the Meidias Hydria in Sir William Hamilton's collection (sold with a number of his other vases to the British Museum in 1772), but the source for the engraved scenes on the present urns is unknown, although they appear to be based on a literary subject. While it is known that Baron Scarsdale was an antiquarian and owned two volumes of d'Hancarville's publication, Charles Birch is a more elusive patron. Birch's urns indicate that he, too, had an interest in classical art, but the choice of decoration suggests an interest in Renaissance poetry or British Roman history. The only other known silver urn made to this design is the sugar urn from the Birch set, now in the collection of Courtauld's plc (illustrated in John Hayward, The Courtauld Silver, 1975, pl. 31, and Hatfield, op. cit., figs. 32 and 33, pp. 18-19).
The Kedleston urns are illustrated in Philippa Glanville, Silver in England, 1987, fig. 32, p. 84, Timothy Schroder, English Domestic Silver, 1988, p. 214, Michael Clayton, Christie's Pictorial History of English and American Silver, 1985, p. 223, and Christie's London, June 25, 1980, lot 87, when they were sold by the Trustees of the Kedleston Estate.