Little silver collection coming to auction includes big rarities

Charles I silver ewer, London, 1625, maker’s mark TH with shell or mullet below, possibly for Thomas Holland. Estimate: £150,000-200,000.

The Little collection of early English silver is coming to Christie’s London on December 3. The auction comprises 26 domestic vessels from the Tudor and early Stuart periods that survived the tumult of the Civil War period. Some pieces are considered the last of their type in private hands.

Extracted from Antiques Trade Gazette | Roland Arkell

Charles I silver ewer, London, 1625, maker’s mark TH with shell or mullet below, possibly for Thomas Holland. Estimate: £150,000-200,000.

Nottinghamshire-based David Little has a deep interest in Elizabethan and Stuart social history. In his early collecting life he focused primarily on pewter and vernacular furniture. However, in the 1990s his head was turned to higher-status objects when in 1991 he acquired from Brand Inglis the rare Charles I spouted ewer shown above that was very similar in form to a pewter vessel already in his collection.

He then bought early English silver and pewter concurrently, noting: “I spent some time comparing the relationship between the two metals, their manufacture, their design and how they complemented each other in use throughout the period.” Little’s £1m pewter collection was sold at Christie’s in 2007.

Exceptional pieces

The 26 pieces of silver, carefully assembled with the help of Godalming dealer Alastair Dickenson, took as its starting point a desire to include only exceptional pieces and a wide variety of different shapes and forms from the period.

Many of the objects are only familiar today from a handful of survivors in major museum collections, depictions in 16th-17th century still-life paintings or from Victorian copies. It comprises some of the best items available to commerce across the past 25 years.

Some, such as two Elizabethan dishes from the so-called Armada Service, hidden in Devon during the Civil War and rediscovered by farm labourers in 1827, will be familiar. They were bought by Dickinson for the Little collection in 2009 for £140,000 at Lawrences of Crewkerne.

Timothy Schroder, author of English Silver before the Civil War, The David Little Collection (2015) described the collection as “remarkable and well-chosen…assembled in an age when such things are increasingly hard to come by”.

Estimates will range from £4000-6000 for a James I silver-mounted cowrie shell casting bottle, c.1600, to £180,000-220,000 for an Elizabethan cup formerly in the Pierpont Morgan collection.