An Extraordinary Victorian Basket Connected to the City of Liverpool and Joseph Mayer

Edward Barnard and Sons
15" long (38.3cm), 12.5" wide (32cm)

Of superb quality, the oval boat-shaped body finely embossed with 4 panels relating to Trade, Industry, Agriculture and Shipping, each within a double lobed cartouche and with a large "c" scroll with wheatears at either side and further scrolls above and below, all separated by slightly misshapen oblong reserves of flowers and leaves upon  matted grounds. The flared rim with a scroll and leaf border and applied with a cast handle chased with fruiting vines, wheatears and matted foliage, the top with vacant oval cartouche. The centre with a large oval cartouche formed by a stiff leaf band interrupted by 4 scroll clasps enclosing an embossed scene of Britannia seated with her right arm resting on the prow of a boat and her left hand holding a wreath. Wearing a mural crown and with one foot resting upon a shell, she is surrounded by barrels, coiled rope, sacks and an anchor and with lightly engraved ships in the background. The oval spreading foot bordered by 6 large leafy scrolls and engraved underneath "Mayer Silversmith Liverpool".


Sothebys,June 5th 1997, Lot 49

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The iconography and the inscription relating to Mayer suggest the basket was made to celebrate the growing importance of Liverpool as a major port for the export and import of goods and materials. The fact that Britannia wears a mural crown is a feature typically associated with a city.

Joseph Mayer was an interesting and influential character. He was born in 1803 and by the mid 1830's was in partnership with his brother-in-law, James Wordley, at 62 Lord Street, Liverpool. It was at this time that Mayer involved himself with the cultural life of the city and became interested in Greek and Roman antiquities. Whilst travelling around Europe he purchased anything that was of interest and these items often influenced his ideas in designing silver and jewellery.

In 1844 he set up his own business at 68 Lord Street concentrating in the design of new pieces as opposed to Wordley who prefered to deal in secondhand items. Mayer specialised in yachting trophies and civic plate and exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Throughout all this time his passion for antiquites grew so much that he, along with Henry Pigeon and the Rev. Abraham Hume, drew up plans for the establishment of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. This brought him into contact with similar minded collectors in London and in 1850 was made a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

He left his collection to the City of Liverpool said to be worth at that time £75000.