History, Etched in Silver

April 23rd, 2013 | posted by Phillip Youngberg
Treaty of Nanking Silver Tray, for Sir Henry Pottinger

Treaty of Nanking Silver Tray, for Sir Henry Pottinger

I love antique silver, as much for its beauty as for its history. A remarkable amount of time went into the crafting of fine silver – from the intricate development of design to the highly technical process of mixing alloys and molding the objects. Each antique silver piece is a spectacular example of the dedication earlier artisans had for creating the very best, which is what made silver such an honor to receive as a gift.

Right now we have a most extraordinary silver tray, gifted to Englishman Sir Henry Pottinger, that is both visually stunning and historically important. We often have in our collection silver pieces that were given as gifts to noblemen and philanthropists as tokens of appreciation, as was tradition in 19th century England. In addition to silver items, honorees were often given the Freedom of the City (equivalent to the Key to an American city). Robust, and with ample room for a visual narrative, silver trays were considered the most prestigious items given.

Pottinger is recognized as the chief negotiator of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, which officially ended the Opium War. History buffs will know this war as a dubious attempt by the British to manipulate the trade of Chinese tea into England. However, the most lasting and important consequence of the treaty that ended the war was the lease of Hong Kong to the British for a term of 99 years. This new British colony ended up bringing the East and West together and without any doubt, changed the world tremendously.

The silver embossed scenes depict the signing of the treaty in detailed, high relief.

The silver embossed scenes depict the signing of the treaty in detailed, high relief.

Pottinger gained instant fame upon his return to England, and the great northern city of Manchester honored him with both the freedom of the city, and this magnificent silver tray. Commissioned from the Royal silversmiths Edward Barnard and Company, the tray measures an impressive 33 inches and weighs 219 troy ounces. It bears the crest of the city of Manchester as well as the family coat of arms of Henry Pottinger. A luxurious scalloped frame encompasses a gallery of pierced fretwork with floral accents while four Chinese dragons guard the handles. The silver embossed scenes depict the signing of the treaty in detailed, high relief.

Remarkable in size and in historical significance, the Pottinger Treaty of Nanking tray is one of the most important pieces of silver we have ever owned. Click here to learn more about the tray and to visit our website.

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