The 3rd Baron Raby's silver wine jug could sell for £2m

Sotheby's will be holding the first-ever sale of its type, next month (July 6), in an auction bringing together 21 lots whose intrinsic quality and importance matches their provenance.

The Sotheby's auction will offer treasures and aristocratic heirlooms ranging from the 16th-19th centuries, from all corners of Europe.

According to a statement released by the auction house, the offered lots will span the entire range of the decorative arts, from porcelain to silver, snuff boxes to furniture, and textiles to objects of Vertu.

Among the sales' jewellery highlights is the Great Silver Wine Cistern of Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby, Ambassador Extraordinary to Berlin, 1706-1711.

The cistern was engraved in the workshops of Philip Rollos Senior and Junior, and John Rollos, c.1705-6, and bears the arms of Queen Anne.

Among the most important pieces of English silver to have come to market in the past 50 years, this monumental wine cooler measures 129.5cm from the front end, and weighs 11 ½ stone (2,597 oz).

As "large as a small bathing-tub" and capable of holding many bottles or flasks of wine, the cistern will auction estimated at £1.5m-£2m.

Completely unrecorded since 1722 and unknown to scholars, it was made for the "fractious and gallant" (as Winston Churchill described him) Lord Raby.

The Great Silver Wine Cistern of Thomas Wentworth, 3rd Baron Raby,
Ambassador Extraordinary to Berlin, 1706-1711

Raby was an ambitious and quick-thinking Yorkshireman who, having proven himself in various military and ambassadorial postings was, in 1706, appointed Ambassador Extraordinary at the Court of the King of Prussia in Berlin.

In order that her ambassadors should dazzle in their respective posts, Queen Anne provided for each of them an "allowance" of silver and silver-gilt.

The amount issued to Raby was 5,893 ounces of silver - a huge amount by any standards. The allocated allowances could be used as each ambassador saw fit, and Raby chose to apply the lion's share of his to the production of this gigantic tour de force of the silversmith's art.

Raby's insistence that the cistern should be as large, heavy and impressive as possible was taken rather too literally by the silversmiths, with the result that far more silver was used than the Queen would pay for, leaving Raby with a substantial £40 bill to foot for the difference.

The cistern was made by Philip Rollos. One of the finest and most celebrated goldsmiths working in London at the time, Rollos was responsible for many of the largest and most important pieces of silver produced in England in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

His son, John Rollos, was equally celebrated as an engraver. Both Philip and John also worked on a large silver-gilt basin for Raby on his appointment in Berlin. Sold at Sotheby's in 1963, that piece is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Meanwhile, the cistern to be sold this summer has passed through the Wentworth family and their descendents, and has never before appeared on the market.


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