The Great Court of the British Museum, £9.99
Height: 6.400 cm
Acquired with the aid of the
P&E MLA 2005,6-4.1 and 2
On loan to
The Palmerston gold chocolate cups
London, AD 1700
Made from gold melted down from mourning rings
This pair of gold chocolate cups was created for Anne Houblon, Lady Palmerston, in 1700. Most unusually, they are made from melted-down mourning rings and they are the only known examples in gold. The custom of giving these rings, inscribed with the deceased's name and date of death, had developed by the mid-seventeenth century. The rings were passed down through families and kept as treasured mementoes.
Lady Palmerston, however, took several rings that she had inherited to the goldsmith John Chartier, a fellow Huguenot, who melted them down and made the cups. She came from a distinguished Huguenot family: her uncle was the first Governor of the Bank of England and appears on the current £50 note.
Inscriptions on the insides of the handles and base of the cups read: 'DULCIA NON MERUIT QUI NON GUSTAVIT AMARA' (he has not deserved sweet unless he has tasted bitter) and 'MANIBUS SACRUM' (to the shades of the departed); on the other 'Think on yr Friends & Death as the chief' and 'MORTVIS LIBAMVR' (let us drink to the dead).
Lady Palmerston bequeathed the cups to her husband, 1st Viscount Palmerston, in 1735, and they were passed down through the family to Edwina Countess Mountbatten, who inherited the art collections of Sir Ernest Cassel (1852-1921), adviser to King Edward VII. Thus the cups joined Cassel's silver, one of the most important collections of historic English silver and gold to have remained in private hands. Ten pieces from this collection were purchased in 2005 by a consortium of nine museums across the UK, each of which acquired pieces relevant to its collections.
A.G. Grimwade, 'A new list of old English gold plate. Part II: 1700-1750' in The Connoisseur-2 (, August 1951), pp. 10-12
A.G. Grimwade, London goldsmiths 1697-1837 (, 1980)