Duncan Urquhart & Naphtali Hart
Material and Medium: Sterling silver
Dimensions: Overall: 105 x 375 x 272mm (4 1/8 x 14 3/4 x 10 11/16in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: L1911.75
This is a late eighteenth century cake basket made from silver. It is oval in shape and ornately decorated with a beaded edge and an engraved border. The border design is created by piercing techniques and features an alternating pattern of encircled stars and Prince of Wales feathers. The hinged handle folds down for ease of storage.
The hallmark shows that this cake basket was registered in London in 1785 by silversmiths Duncan Urquhart and Napthali Hart. Urquhart and Hart recorded their first manufacturer's mark as 'bucklemakers' at the London Goldsmiths office in 1791, registering another three marks together as partners over the next fifteen years. Their last mark registered their occupations as 'plateworkers', which shows that they were developing their areas of expertise in silvermaking.
By law, silver objects have to be tested and hallmarked by an Assay office to prove that they are pure metals with enough real silver metal content. This system was set up in 1300 as a very early form of quality control and consumer protection. A hallmark usually shows the maker’s mark, the mark of the Assay office where it was tested, the quality guarantee mark and a date letter. Between 1784 and 1890 a fifth mark, the Sovereign's Head, was used to show that the correct duty had been paid on the object.
There are five marks stamped on the basket. The mark 'DU / NH' identifies the makers. The lion passant symbol verifies that the object is made of quality silver. The head of a leopard wearing a crown shows that the object was tested at the London Assay office and the letter 'K' is the date mark for 1785. A stamp of the head of King George III is also present.
Cake baskets were used to serve small cakes at breakfast or afternoon tea. Contemporary recipes tell us that cakes were flavoured with a large range of ingredients at this time including plums, currants, nutmeg, almond and aniseed.
The taking of tea is traditionally associated with women in the 1700s and 1800s. At the time this cake basket was made, tea was usually served after dinner in the home. After eating, the hostess and female guests would retire to the drawing room for tea and the men would stay in the dining room to drink alcohol. Tea was a very sociable occasion and was an opportunity to catch up on gossip and scandal.