A late 15th Century silver-gilt mounted maple wood mazer bowl,
Provenance:- St. Botolphs Church, Colchester, previously at Holy Trinity Church, Colchester - presented to the church before 1791, after it's discovery in Devon. Exhibited at Christies, 1995 Silver Treasures from English Churches. Thereafter on exhibition at Colchester Castle Museum.
The Gentleman's Magazine, 1791, p.417 Transaction of the Essex Archeological Society, III, part I, p.76, 1889 Transcript of the Exeter Diocese Archeological Society, V, p.19 St. John Hope, Archealogia, vol 50, p.129 Charles Jackson, History of English Plate, 1911, p.617, fig.833 W.J. Pressey (ed), The Church Plate of the County of Essex, 1926, p.191, pl.II Timothy Schroder, The Gilbert Collection of Gold and Silver, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988, p.34 Philippa Glanville, Silver in Tudor and Early Stuart England, 1900, p.230
The term mazer is applied to drinking bowls from the 13th-16th Centuries but is derived from the Middle High-German mase meaning spot from being a bowl of spotted wood i.e. usually birds-eye maple and are seen in engravings as early as circa 1280. As these bowls were frequently shallow, the addition of a broad silver band added considerably to their capacity. Jackson noted at least twenty-six known mazers of the type dating circa 1450 circa 1540, with engraved bands and prints; this bowl was reputedly found on or near the site of Wolmerstone Chapel, Devon. Jackson, writing about 1911, states its condition is almost perfect but since then the wood has been cracked and one small section is secured by two metal rivets. There is also a very small piece of silver missing from the edge of the inside rim. Henry Laver writing in 1889 in the Essex Archaeological Society believed it to date from the reign of Richard II and stated that the bowl was used in the Church to collect alms. The Three Kings and their gifts, referring to the three kings who came from the East to visit the infant Jesus, were believed to provide antidotes to epilepsy and fevers.
Shallow turned wood drinking vessels known as mazers, enriched with silver mounts, were a common vessel form in England until the early 16th century and appear frequently in wills and inventories of the period. About 80 survive today. Their character ranges fom the simple 14th century bowls in the Harbledown group (Clayton, Dictionary, 1985, no. 349), which are mounted with no more than a narrow band around the lip, to a much more elaborate type, of which the relatively late 1529 mazer at All Souls College, Oxford (Glanville, 1990, fig. 124) is an example. Grander pieces still are recorded, though do not survive, such as the "standing Masar with a cover and foote silvar and gilt standing upon iij Lyons" that Thomas Wolsey gave to his college in Ipswich (Clayton, p.244). A number are engraved on the central 'print' with a devotional image or, like this one, with the sacred monogram I H S (standing for Iesus Hominum Salvator), which would originally have been enamelled. This is probably an indication that it was made for a religious or quasi-religious institution, such as a college, monastery or hospital. Monastic inventories make frequent mention of mazers, for example, there were 182 at Canterbury in 1328 and 49 at Durham in 1446. One with a similar print is still in possession at St. John's Hospital, Canterbury and another of 1532 in the British Museum belonged originally to Rochester Monastery and has a Latin inscription meaning 'The bowl of the refectory of Rochester given by brother Robert Pecham'. The Rites of Durham, written in 1593, described their use in which "every monk had his mazer severally by himself to drink in..... And all the said mazers were largely and finely edged with silver, and double gilt". The survival of a number of mazers in secular churches, including three others exhibited with this at Christie's in 1955 (Fairford, Gloucestershire, St. Petrock, Exeter and Whitsbury, Hampshire) is for different reasons. These do not generally seem to have belonged to the churches since medieval times and were more often examples of pious gifts of plate which were no longer fashionable. It has been suggested that they were given for use as alms dishes. It is not possible to date this mazer with any precision because none of those with which it can be directly compared is marked. The inscription with its invocation of the Three Kings, "Jaspar, Melchior and Balthazar" is similar to that of the standing mazer at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (Glanville, 1900, p.228), which is usually dated to about 1490. The distinctive band of die-struck ornament, consisting of groups of five pellets is found on a number of other mazers and mounted cups of this period, such as a mounted serpentine bowl in the V & A (Glanville, 1990, fig. 120, dated c.1500) or the coconut cup at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (dated c.1470) but again these comparable pieces are generally not marked.