Turned and engraved pearwood, with the arms of James I, England, 1617
Height: 30.2 cm, Diameter: 16.8 cm bowl
The exact use of this type of cup is not clear. It had been thought that they were fashionable communion cups, although the use of wood as a vessel for the host had been forbidden by the Canons of Winchester as early as 1071. Pinto relates that they could have been the cups of Royal Cupbearers, and though some of the crests relate to holders of this office, most had held it before the reign of James I. The likelihood of their having been prototypes for silverware is thrown into doubt by the lack of any known replicas made in silver.
Pinto propose that they may have been 'part of the insignia of some exclusive 17th century society', similar to, or perhaps an ancestor to, the Honorable Order of Little Bedlam, a social club founded by the 5th Earl of Exeter in 1684.
Note on RP 13/3789: 'The two English cups of engraved wood, one bearing the Royal Arms and the date 1617 and the other (with lid) [W.51-1913] bearing the date 1648, are both most interesting examples and would be valuable additions to the collections'
'BY VERTUOUS LIVING DOTH…u honour rise: an evil live brings infamie and shame to follow his Counsell that is most wise brings endless Glory and immortall fame and such as on earth Gods Glory Do advance shall ever BE had in Remembrance'
'But sure the name of evil Doers shall rott: Eternall wo shall fale vnto their Lott: For every one shall Receive according to the works Donne'
'Drinke well and welcome You that CHRISTIANS BE: You that have sured faith and sound Repentance…'
The decoration would most likely have been executed with a hot thin steel implement on a carefully prepared surface, which would have been very smooth and probably glazed first. This would have been difficult to achieve, as heat could not be controlled very carefully, and so the designs may have been first finely gouged or incised and then later darkened.