English bowl with coins, 19th century
Art, wealth and status meld together in this English silver bowl fully decorated with almost 100 coins, medals and tokens. The bowl was produced in London, in 1810, but it has also received several later additions.
Did you know that…
The oldest coin in this bowl is a silver denarius of Augustus struck in the mint of Lugdunum (Lyon) around 2 BC – 4 AD?
Since their earliest days coins have been a support and vehicle of culture, whether material or immaterial, and are often employed in decorative and ornamental ways. History is replete with examples of objects embellished with coins, from earrings, pendants, and necklaces, to ostentatious pieces such as the famed Patera of Rennes, a gold vessel from the 3rd century containing 16 embedded Roman aurei.
This English silver bowl follows on a tradition that traces back to antiquity, joining art, wealth, and ostentation. It was made in London in 1810, probably on commission to the goldsmith Solomon Houghman for a noble English family whose arms appear on the foot of the vessel.
Richly decorated with plant motifs and gilded on the inside, the bowl incorporates 85 coins, 9 medals, and 5 tokens, all of silver except for a single gold sovereign of Elizabeth I. The majority of such pieces were made in England, France, and Spanish America from the 17th to the 19th centuries, but among them one also finds coins of Portugal, Germany, Italy, North America, and even two Roman denarii, one each of Augustus and Vespasian. Despite the date of manufacture, the bowl includes many later additions: no fewer than 18 coins with dates ranging from 1811 to 1835.
Even as a work of art and object of ostentation, the bowl is equally an instrument for storing wealth and a witness to the monetary history of Great Britain. The abundance of silver it flaunts contrasts sharply with the near chronic shortage of silver coinage in Great Britain in the 18th century, aggravated by the Napoleonic Wars, and only solved from 1816 on.