The Welshpool gold cup case study: The Welshpool gold cup


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Figure 3. Welshpool gold cup, detail showing the sponsor’s mark, perhaps GW and double-struck. © National Museum of Wales.

The Welshpool gold cup

The Welshpool cup is one of fewer than thirty surviving examples of British gold plate made in the seventeenth century,[1] and one of only five recorded gold chalices made before 1800.[2] Indeed, in April 1664 the Goldsmiths’ Company Minute Book, replying to a request from Charles II (1630-1685) for statistics on gold plate assayed in the previous decade, recorded that the enquiry could not be answered as ‘it is soe Seldome that any is made.’[3]

The cup is 23.7cm high and weighs 30oz 8¼dwt troy weight (946gr).[4] The unattributed sponsor’s mark is unclear and probably double-struck, but may read ‘GW’ below two pellets (small dots) (see figure 3). As is usual with gold objects of this date there are no assay marks, which were not required until 1717 and often omitted on specially ordered pieces. The inscription dating this cup to 1662 is therefore invaluable if also – as will be seen – problematic.


Figure 4. The Welshpool gold cup’s brass carrying case, c. 1662. © National Museum of Wales.


Figure 5. Welshpool gold cup, detail showing the arms of Thomas Davies. © National Museum of Wales.

The cup is Gothic in form, its moulded hexafoil foot rising to a hexagonal stem. The stem has a flattened knop (bulbous knob) chased with converging hexafoil petals and supports a plain rounded bowl sitting on a calyx of ‘cut-card’ foliage. Overall, the design is a plain one, typical of the surviving seventeenth-century church plate in gold.[5] There is no evidence that the cup was originally accompanied by a paten (a cover doubling as a small plate used for the bread or wafers at Communion) but it does retain its original brass carrying case (see figure 4), an extremely rare survival.

Engraved on one side of the cup is a coat of arms between crossed plumes (see figure 5). The tinctures are not indicated but the correct blazoning is argent, a lion passant sable between three fleurs-de-lis gules. These are the armorial bearings of several Montgomeryshire families but here they are without doubt those of the Davies family of Kynant (Ceunant).[6]




Engraved on the opposite side (see figure 6), a Latin inscription reads: 

Thomas Dauies Anglorum in Africae plaga
occidentali Procurator generalis
ob vitam multifariâ Dei misericordiâ ibidem conseruatum
Calicem hunc é purissimo auro Guiniano conflatum
Dei honori et Ecclesiae de Welchpoole ministerio
perpetuo sacrum voluit
a quo vsu S : S [Salvatori Sacro?] si quis facinerosus eundem Calicem
in posterum alienaret (quod auertat Deus) Dei vindicis
Supremo tribunali poenas luat
Cal. Apr. IX. M.D.C.L.X.II

This translates into English as:


Thomas Davies agent general of the English

on the west coast of Africa

because his life was preserved there by the bountiful mercy of God

had this chalice forged from the purest Guinea gold

and gave it as a sacred offering to the Grace of God

and for the permanent service of the church of Welshpool.

If any villain should subsequently remove the same chalice from this use

[sacred to the Saviour?] (and may God prevent this)

may he be punished at the Last Judgement of God the avenger.

 9 April 1662


The inscription raises questions about Davies’s precise role in West Africa; about what prompted his gratitude for the preservation of his life; about his connection with Welshpool; and about the significance of the date, 9 April 1662. These are all discussed below.


Figure 6. Welshpool gold cup, composite image of the inscription. © National Museum of Wales.

Enthusiasm for gold after the Restoration in 1660 was fed by the influx of ‘Guinea gold’ from West Africa in the 1660s and 1670s. The English gold standard of 22 carats had been fixed in 1575-6, but by the 1670s gold was often substandard.[7] Thanks to the purity of West African gold a premium of one shilling was paid on sovereigns made from it, these coins being dubbed ‘guineas’ and the African source of their gold indicated from 1663 by an elephant symbol. It is noteworthy therefore that Thomas Davies made a point of stating the purity and source of his gold in his inscription – e purissimo auro Guiniano (‘of the purest Guinea gold’). XRF analysis of the cup confirms the purity of its gold at between 92.7% and 93.9%, comparable to the 94.4% purity of a two-guinea gold coin of 1664 and in excess of the 22- carat standard.[8]

The cup is closely comparable to a gold chalice made for the coronation of Charles II and now in the Jewel House at the Tower of London.[9] This bears the sponsor’s mark TV for Sir Thomas Vyner (1588-1665), uncle of Robert Vyner (1631-1688) who at the Restoration was official goldsmith to the Crown and supplier of the new coronation regalia for Charles II. 27cm in height and with two additional knops, the royal chalice is slightly larger than the Welshpool cup and, at 43oz 8dwt troy weight excluding its paten, significantly heavier. Along with the paten, which took the total original weight up to 61oz 12dwt 12gr, it cost £277 6s 3d (equivalent to £4 10s an ounce). By analogy, and to use the terminology found in wills, Jewel House records and other sources of the period, we could expect the Welshpool cup to have been a ‘hundred and fifty pound cup’,[10] still a very considerable commission and gift. There is, in fact, evidence from later St Asaph diocesan records that Davies’s cup was originally valued at £168 (‘clxviii minis valentem’), equivalent to a relatively expensive £5 10s an ounce and perhaps reflecting the high level of purity of the gold used.[11] At this time the East India Company had a policy (recorded in a Minute of the Court of Committees dated 8 November 1661) of paying individuals in Guinea no more than £3 10s per ounce for ‘good Tiber gold’.[12]

The Welshpool cup exemplifies the exceptional nature of a gold vessel in the seventeenth century, which was always ‘a striking piece of evidence as to a set of circumstances, its creation, form and decoration – all offering clues to be decoded.’[13] It underlines its status and intent by copying both the design and the material of the royal gold chalice of 1661. It would be known, after all, that gold vessels were used by the monarch for dining and – in this context specifically – for taking communion. This allusion to the Restoration also suggests that the cup was in part a token of loyalty to the new regime. Its revived Gothic form has pre-Reformation Catholic associations and is a variant of a style that first appeared around 1620.[14] It reflects in particular the ideas of Archbishop William Laud (1573-1645), executed in 1645, whose love of ceremony – ‘the beauty of holiness’ as he called it – angered the Puritans and contributed to Charles I’s difficulties in the 1640s. The evidence of Charles II’s chalice, of the one made for James Duke of York (1633-1701) in about 1664 and of the new chalices and patens made for the royal chapels after the Restoration, all variations on the same Gothic theme, makes clear the relationship between this style and the influence of the High Church party on court taste.[15] Furthermore, it may reasonably be speculated that like the Welshpool cup the royal chalices were also made of Guinea gold, so strengthening the association between the three pieces.[16]

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[1]Timothy Schroder, British and Continental Gold and Silver in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2009), vol. 1, p. 159.

[2] E. Alfred Jones, ‘The Gold Chalice of Welshpool’, Y Cymmrodor, XLIV (1935), p. 3.

[3]Philippa Glanville, ‘The Bowes Gold Cup: a Stuart race prize?’, Burlington Magazine, 137:1107 (June 1995), pp. 387-90. Note, however, that in 1660 Charles II ordered for his coronation new gold regalia, supplied in 1661 by the Crown Jeweller Robert Vyner at a cost of over £12,000; and that he also acquired new gold altar and banqueting plate at a further cost of some £18,000: Claude Blair, The Crown Jewels: The history of the Coronation Regalia in the Jewel House of the Tower of London, 2 vols (London: The Stationery Office, 1998), vol. 1, p. 368.

[4]In 1698 the weight was recorded as ‘thirty ounces 3 quarters and a half troy weight’: ‘Lhwyd’s Parochialia’, Montgomery Collections, XXXVII (1915), p. 269.

[5]Philippa Glanville, Silver in Tudor and Early Stuart England: A Social History and Catalogue of the National Collection 1480-1660 (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1990), p. 142.

[6] ‘Welsh Pool: Materials for the History of the Parish and Borough’, Montgomery Collections, XV (1882), p. 309.For the heraldic terminology, see for example

[7] Glanville, ‘Bowes Gold Cup’, p. 388.

[8]Analysis by Mary Davis, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, 6 May 2014, using a Bruker TRACeR III-SD hand-held X-ray fluorescent spectrometer (HHXRF) with a rhodium tube, and a titanium/aluminium filter.

[9] Royal Collection,RCIN 31766 (and paten); Blair, Crown Jewels, vol. 1 pp. 368-369, vol. 2 pp. 412-415 no. 11; Arthur Grimwade, ‘New Light on English Royal Plate’ in The Silver Society Journal, 7 (1995), p. 370 & fig. 1.

[10]Glanville, ‘Bowes Gold Cup’, p. 390.

[11] Diocese of St Asaph, Report on Rural Deaneries, 1749 (deposited at the National Library of Wales, SA/RD/26), quoted by Maurice Ridgway, Church Plate of the St. Asaph Diocese (Denbigh: Gee & Son, 1997), p.253; ‘Welsh Pool: Materials for the History of the Parish and Borough’, Montgomery Collections, XV (1882), p. 308.

[12]Ethel Bruce Sainsbury (ed.), A Calendar of the Court minutes etc of the East India Company, 1660-1663 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922), pp. 146-147. The exact meaning of the term ‘Tiber gold’ is uncertain, but it must refer to gold available for sale in West Africa, perhaps in the form of small grains obtained from rivers.

[13]Glanville, ‘Bowes Gold Cup’, p. 387.

[14]Charles Oman, English Church Plate 597-1830 (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), pp. 205-210.

[15]Blair, Crown Jewels, vol. 2, pp. 12-15.

[16]Ibid., p. 415.