Etruscan mythology, £8.99
Height: 7.000 cm
M&ME SL 1693, OA 9292, OA 9293
Enlightenment: Natural world
Three tin-glazed earthenware chocolate cups
Possibly made in Lombardy, Italy, about 1740-45
One of these chocolate cups can definitely be traced to the collection of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), but all three were probably part of a set of 'Eleven chocolate cups of various shapes & designs, some broken' listed in Sloane's own catalogue. The cups are painted over the glaze with figures in Chinese and European dress in a landscape, and were once gilded. They were exceptional items in Sloane's collection, which became the founding collection of the British Museum.
Chocolate was brought to Europe from Mexico by the explorer Hernando Cortez in 1526. By the late-seventeenth century it was being drunk in England in 'chocolate houses' - the forerunners of the coffee houses that became popular as gathering places for gentlemen. Chocolate, mixed with spices and sugar, was considered a great luxury, which is why fine chocolate cups like these were made.
It was Sir Hans Sloane who introduced milk chocolate for drinking. He had drunk chocolate while working as a physician in the West Indies, but found it 'nauseous and hard of digestion'. So he made it more palatable by boiling the beans with milk and sugar. Sloane's manuscripts preserved in the British Library include several recipes for making drinking chocolate in this way. He recommended the drink to his patients as a remedy for indigestion and believed that it was effective against consumption (tuberculosis). Soon after he returned to England, 'Sloane's milk chocolate' was being sold all over London. The recipe eventually passed to the firm of Cadbury's.
K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)
T. Rice, Voyages of discovery: three ce (London, Scriptum Editions and the Natural History Museum, 1999)
A. MacGregor (ed.), Sir Hans Sloane, collector, sc (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)