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A George III Silver Goblet Celebrating Britain’s Naval & Mercantile Supremacy, 1771
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A George III Silver Goblet Celebrating Britain’s Naval & Mercantile Supremacy, 1771

Measurements: Height: 15cm (6in)



Rising from a circular foot sweeping into to a knopped stem, and supporting a plain bowl finely engraved with the moorcock family armorial crest of the connoisseur Ralph Willett (1719-1795) - this contained within a rococo cartouche flanked by figures of Roman gods Neptune and Vulcan, the whole surmounted by an engraved figure of Britannia seated upon a wreath of colours. Maker’s mark of David Whyte. Hallmarked London 1771.

References to Britannia, Vulcan and Neptune are found in patriotic songs of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  John Stewart’s Britons united; or, Britannia roused (1800), for instance, declared ...

The thunder of immortal Nelson,
Echoed round them near and far,
Like a new-born Vulcan hell-son
Supported by the God of War.

Guided by our Sons of Neptune,
With Britannia on our Main
Who says that she shall not be kept on,
What say ye, force of France or Spain?

West Indies-born Ralph Willett, who inherited vast wealth from estates in St. Kitts,  had good reason to celebrate both Britain’s naval supremacy and consequent commercial dynamism. The Triangular Trade provided him with necessary funds to create one of the most important libararies in Europe.  An additional wing was added to his Dorset mansion in 1772 to house his collection of 8000 rare volumes that included seven works printed by Caxton.

Something of an eccentric, Willett. was twice married, on both occasions by special licence at the town house in Dean Street, Soho, London, which he occupied from 1760. He married his first wife, Annabella Robinson (c.1718–1779), on the day before her death on 10 December 1779, after ‘forty years spent by the couple in mutual happiness’. With no obvious heirs, his lengthy will named his kinsman, the rake and scoundrel Captain John Willett Payne, R.N., as one of his principal legatees. A distinguished ‘son of Neptune’ himself, Willett Payne was a hero of the Lord Howe’s victory over the French in the Battle of the Glorious First of June 1794 capturing the French line of battle ship Impetueux, prior to becoming private secretary to the Prince Regent.

Fairbairn, J. (1905) ‘Fairbairn's book of crests of the families of Great Britain and Ireland’.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Chantilly, M de V. (2004) ‘Willett, Ralph (1719–1795)’.