A rare Liberty & Co Cymric silver vase (not inkwell as sometimes perceived), hallmarked London 1899, date letter “d”.

The Cymric range was launched in May 1899, just one week prior to the start of the 1899 London assay year date letter “d”, which is carried by this vase.  Nearly all later Liberty pieces carry Liberty’s Birmingham mark registered in late 1899.  At it its initial launch, the Cymric exhibition catalogue makes no reference to Celtic silver or design, but references its medieval inspiration.   This vase is Exhibit 12 in the May 1899 Liberty Cymric catalogue, named the Iris and described as follows:

“Spherical shape body, supported on three legs proceeding from and forming the collar. Height 3 inches.”

I believe the design is based on similarly shaped medieval bronze vessels or cauldrons. Knox was known to have hundreds of photographic plates of items like these from the British and Kensington Museums which he used as teaching aids.

The original design drawing for this “Iris vase” is held at the Museum of Domestic design and Architecture, Middlesex University (SD 8173 ). It is model 2015 in the Liberty Silver Sketch book, page 443.  The number 12 (its 1899 exhibit number) is faintly written next to the design also.

This piece is not obviously a Knox design but I am confident it represents an example of his early work – not least  because it is so radical, with the integration of the feet into the overall design a classic feature of Knox’s work.  This vase also appears on a collection of sketches on a single sheet of paper (SD 1618) from the Silver Studio archives held at MoDA. This sheet wholly comprises examples from the 1899 catalogue and most are identified as early Knox work.  The vase, which also has similarities with Oliver Baker’s work, cannot be his because Baker never worked for the Silver Studio, one Liberty’s London commercial design suppliers.  Baker worked directly with Haseler from Birmingham.

I have  written about these early pieces before, notably A513 and in my article “Origins of the Liberty Cymric range“.

Interestingly this design does not appear in the slightly later c 1900 illustrated Cymric catalogue, suggesting it was perhaps not a popular seller and the model discontinued.  Certainly it is exceptionally rare.

Originally, according to the 1899 Cymric catalogue, these pieces were not highly polished.  Over the years that patina has been lost and there is some “broken fire” (different colouration in the silver) showing through the body.  This is of no importance.  Like many of these early Liberty pieces it is a good gauge of silver.

Maker: Liberty & Co

Designer: Archibald Knox (attrib)

Date : 1899

Marks: Ly & Co Liberty mark, London, date latter “d”

Material: Sterling silver

Size: 7.5 cm high, 8.25 cm wide across the feet. Weight : 144 grams, 5.1 oz

Photographs and description courtesy of The Peartree Collection.