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Ecclesiastical Pewter

Many of the flagons that collectors chase for their collections have survived because they were made for use in churches and when no longer needed were put away in a vestry cupboard and forgotten.  If they belong to a Church of England parish these articles should not be sold without the granting of a diocesan faculty however different rules apply to other churches and inevitably ‘leakage’ occurs especially when the value is not appreciated.  These flagons had two main uses, the first to hold the communion wine which was consecrated in the flagon and the chalice recharged as necessary, the second use was to hold the water needed at the font for a baptism.  It is not possible to distinguish domestic from church items as no specific design was used in church.  Pear shaped flagons were made in the 16th century but are seldom seen, more commonly we see the James 1 style with dome shaped lids and a knob.  This style was followed by the bun lidded ‘Charles 1’ and then the ‘beefeater’, so called because of its lid shape.  Many of these last two designs are still housed in churches.  Other types followed such as the straight sided and spire flagons.

Plates used as patens (for the communion bread) and others used for collection plates were common but as many of these did not have inscriptions it is impossible to distinguish them from domestic ones.  We do occasionally find engraved alms plates from both parish and non-conformist churches dating from the late 17th century to the 19th century.  From Scotland there have come dishes/chargers with clear dates and place names.  Many of these were sold when the Free Church of Scotland amalgamated with the Church of Scotland in the early 20th century and surplus buildings and their contents were disposed of.  The quality of these and their often accompanying chalices is high.  Much prized are the alms dishes with royal medallions as a centre boss, often from London churches.

The third main type of church pewter is the chalice.  The scottish ones are large, bucket shaped and in Scotland usually referred to as ‘communion cups’.  They frequently have bold inscriptions noting the place and date.  English ones are of a wide variety of designs and in the main smaller than the Scottish ones, inscriptions are rare and when present on chalices or flagons much more discrete.  It is an oddity about chalices that the vast majority do not have maker’s marks although ‘hallmarks’ are seen infrequently.  A rare example of a touchmarked piece is at St Cyres Church in Angus with the mark of William Eddon of London, active 1690 – 1747, there is a story there of its migration!  A beautiful ‘hallmarked’ one is in the treasury at Chichester Cathedral with the marks of Robert Isles of London, working 1691 – 1735 but with a dramatic armorial added c1850.  Irish chalices commonly have a thick stem and straight sided bowls.

Pilgrim badges are another field and often seen as many have been unearthed by the ‘mudlarks’ searching the Thames mud and other rivers, they date from the late 14 -16th century.  Candlesticks were used in churches but due to the lack of inscriptions it is hard to distinguish between church ones and domestic ones, remarkable ones can be seen at York Minster.