Press release

18th century British Ambassador's massive silver cistern under threat of permanent posting abroad

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on a massive silver wine cistern commissioned by Thomas Wentworth.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has placed a temporary export bar on a massive silver wine cistern commissioned by Thomas Wentworth (1672-1739), ambassador extraordinary to the King of Prussia at Berlin.  This will provide a last chance to raise the money to keep the cistern in the United Kingdom. 

The Minister’s ruling follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, administered by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).  The Committee recommended that the export decision be deferred on the grounds that the cistern is of outstanding aesthetic importance; of outstanding significance for the study of the history of the technique of hand crafted silver at a large scale; and the history of the role of British ambassadors abroad in the early 18th century.  The Committee awarded a starred rating to the cistern meaning that every possible effort should be made to raise enough money to keep it in the country.

Weighing more than 2500 ounces and measuring an astonishing 129 centimetres wide, the great silver wine cistern granted under the Privy Seal to Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby (created Earl of Strafford in 1711), bears the maker marks of Philip Rollos senior, one of the finest immigrant goldsmiths working in London in the late 17th and early 18th century.  An engraving with the royal arms and cipher of Queen Anne is attributable to John Rollos, his son.

Philippa Glanville, Reviewing Committee member, said:

This is one of the most outstanding pieces of silver that has come before us.  We would be the poorer for not having this in a UK institution.

Wine cisterns of this size were intended to catch the eye and emphasise the status of the monarch through, in this instance, his ambassador.  At a time when diplomats were judged by their splendid entertainments, a kind of substitute warfare across the dining table, such items would have functioned as a tool of diplomacy.

This particular cistern would have been displayed in the British Embassy in Berlin during an important time in history in the English-Brandenburg relationship, as a mark of British culture and ability.

The decision on the export licence application for the cistern will be deferred for a period ending on 7 February 2011 inclusive.  This period may be extended until 7 June 2011 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds with a view to making an offer to purchase the cistern at the recommended price of £2,558,668.75 [including VAT] is expressed.

Offers from public bodies for less than the recommended price through the private treaty sale arrangements, where appropriate, may also be considered by the Culture Minister.  Such purchases frequently offer substantial financial benefit to both parties by the sharing of tax advantages.

Anyone interested in making an offer to purchase the cistern should contact the owner’s agent through:

The Secretary
The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
Grosvenor House
14 Bennetts Hill
Birmingham
B2 5RS

Notes to Editors

  1. For all media enquiries please contact Senior Media Relations Adviser, Sunita Sharma, on 020 7273 8299, email: sunita.sharma@mla.gov.uk
  2. For enquiries on the operation of and casework arising from the work of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) please contact Sean BC Farran, RCEWA Secretary, on 0121 345 7428, email sean.farran@mla.gov.uk
  3. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by MLA, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria. Where the Committee finds that an object meets one or more of the criteria, it will normally recommend that the decision on the export licence application should be deferred for a specified period. An offer may then be made from within the United Kingdom at or above the fair market price.
  4. The cistern was conceived in the spirit of national pride and was a feat of skilled craftsmanship. Its bold baroque design adapts to its large scale, the like of which could not be seen anywhere else at that moment in history and was truly exceptional. A number of similar cisterns are now in The Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia, but the “Raby Cistern” is the largest example in the UK of three surviving large cisterns from the period for cooling wine bottles which were made for ambassadorial use and one of only two ambassadorial examples to retain its original engraving of the royal arms.
  5. The details of the cistern are:

The great oval silver wine cistern of Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby (1672-1739), Ambassador Extraordinary to Berlin, 1706-1711, Philip Rollos senior, London, 1705-06.
Engraved with contemporary royal arms and cipher of Queen Anne (the engraving attributed to John Rollos) with applied lobes and strapwork, demi lion and drop ring handles and lip border of shells, fully hallmarked on the underside, with maker’s mark (Grimwade no. 2383) and Britannia mark on the handles, the foot reinforced on the underside with riveted brass straps.
Height  83 cm. (32  inches); width 129.5 cm (51 inches); depth  83 cm. (32 inches).
Weight 908000 gr (2597 oz 15 dwt).

PROVENANCE
Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby (created Earl of Strafford, 1711) ambassador extraordinary to the King of Prussia at Berlin, 1706-1711, and thence by descent  through his eldest daughter Lady Anne Conolly, to her granddaughter Lady Amelia Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry, Viscountess Castlereagh (d.1829); believed to have passed during her lifetime to her father John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire (d.1793) of Blickling Hall, Norfolk; and then in turn to his eldest daughter Caroline Harbord, Baroness Suffield; and to her great nephew William Kerr, 8th Marquis of Lothian and thence by decent; Sotheby’s, 6 July 2010, Lot 8.

KEY LITERATURE
Treasures: Aristocratic Heirlooms, Sotheby’s, London 6 July 2010, VIII, pp.70-83.
Helen Jacobsen, ‘Ambassadorial plate of the later Stuart period and the collection of the Earl of Strafford’, Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 19, no.1 (2007).

James Lomax, ‘Royalty and silver: The role of the Jewel House in the eighteenth century’, The Silver Society Journal, vol.11 (Autumn 1999),pp.133-139.

John Harris, Bodt and Stainborough, The Architectural Review, July 1961,pp.34-35.
N.M.Penzer, ‘The Great Wine Coolers’ Parts I & II, Apollo, August - September, 1957.

James Salzmann, ‘Deliv’d for the use of his Lordship’s table’: British Ambassadorial Silver from William and Mary to George IV: MA Thesis, Sotheby’s Institute, London, 2007.

The Strafford Papers, British Library Additional MS 22226.

  1. Further details about the cistern can be found in the auction catalogue on the Sotheby’s website.

Press Enquiries: 020 7211 2210
Out of hours telephone pager no: 07699 751153
Public Enquiries: 020 7211 6000

Help us improve GOV.UK

Please don't include any personal or financial information, for example your National Insurance or credit card numbers.