Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery has secured £41,000 towards the acquisition of a remarkable piece of 17th century silver.
The Sparke Cup is a silver-gilt, two handled cup, cover and salver of very high quality. It was made by Thomas Jenkins, a silversmith of London, in 1672-3 and then purchased by Plymouth in 1680 in honour of John Sparke (1636-1680).
Sparke was an MP for Plymouth in 1677 and 1679 and married into the Carew family of Antony House. He was descended from a long and distinguished family of city merchants.
His great-grandfather ‘John Sparke the younger’ had written a journal of John Hawkins’ voyage to America (1564-5) containing the earliest known description of potatoes and tobacco.
His grandfather, also called John Sparke (1574-1640), was responsible for leasing Sutton Pool as a major business venture and was firmly engaged in public life.
When Sparke died it’s believed the cup passed to his son William. When William passed away in the early 1700s he was childless but wealthy and left most of his estate, including his ‘plate, jewels household goods and other goods and chattels’ to his godson John Molesworth (1668-1723).
John succeeded his father as third baronet in 1716. After this the cup descended through 12 generations of the Molesworth family until it was sold in 1994 at Sotheby’s London to a private vendor.
Now the cup has been secured for the city thanks to an £18,050 grant from the Art Fund, £18,000 from the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) Purchase Grant Fund and a further £5,000 donation from the Friends of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery.
Deputy Council Leader Peter Smith said: “We’re extremely grateful for the funding support we’ve received from the Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery so we can acquire this notable piece of 17th century silver. The cup will go on display in the Museum from June and its significance will be explored through talks later in the year.”
Curator of Decorative Art Alison Cooper added: “The Sparke Cup is a fantastic surviving example of the type of presentation silver that was produced during the late 17th century and has strong links to Plymouth. After it was purchased in 1680, local silversmith Joseph Wilcockes was employed to add the Plymouth arms as well as the arms of the Sparke family. The cup has survived in fantastic condition and will make a great addition to our collections.”
To find out more about Museum and Art Gallery’s decorative art collections which include silver, craft, ceramics and studio pottery visit its collections web pages.