“Lost” since 1845, Royal horse racing trophy re-emerges and sells for £40K

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"Her Majesty’s Vase" has a pre-auction estimate of up to £30,000.
“Her Majesty’s Vase” has a pre-auction estimate of up to £30,000. © Chiswick Auctions

A horse racing trophy that was gifted by Queen Victoria and last seen in public in 1845 has been rediscovered and will be auctioned next month.

» Update: Trophy sells for £40,000 ($NZ77,000; $US58,000)

The Victorian Royal Warwick presentation vase and trophy, known colloquially as “Her Majesty’s vase” was last seen when it was presented in 1845 at the Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall races, as a gift from the Queen.

It was presented to Sir John Barker-Mill, 1st Baronet (1803-1860), whose three-year-old filly, Giantess (Leviathan x Virginia) won the two-mile race for horses three and over. The trophy descended through the family of Barker-Mill, who had been created a baronet of “Mottisfont in the County of Southampton” in 1836.

As it was passed down, the vase and stand had become separated from each other and the significance of the trophy dwindled, until later generations no longer recognised it.

The vase was rediscovered in the family home, but the stand was only recently discovered in an outbuilding, which is when the family reunited the pieces and realised exactly what it was. Further research confirmed it, and the magnificent piece will be offered among more than 500 lots at Chiswick Auctions’ sale of Silver and Objects of Vertu in London on March 3, 2022.

The vase was commissioned by Queen Victoria and produced especially for the Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall races in 1845 by the silversmith John Samuel Hunt (1785-1865) who traded with another great silversmith, Paul Storr (1770-1844). Known as the Warwick vase, it was created to the design of an ancient vase dating from the 2nd century A.D.

This colossal vase measuring nearly six feet high, was found in fragments in 1770 at the bottom of a lake at Hadrian’s Villa, near Rome, by a group of Englishmen and was acquired by Sir William Hamilton, at the time Ambassador to Naples.

The vase is engraved with a presentation inscription "Plymouth, Devonport and Cornwall Races 1845, the gift of her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria".
The vase is engraved with a presentation inscription “Plymouth, Devonport and Cornwall Races 1845, the gift of her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria”. © Chiswick Auctions

Hamilton sold it in restored condition to Charles (Greville), 2nd Earl of Warwick, who set it up on the grounds of Warwick Castle. The vase had been engraved by Piranesi in 1778 and provided the inspiration for many versions of the vase in silver and silver-gilt during the Regency period.

Royal goldsmiths Rundell, Bridge and Rundell appear to have supplied most of the Warwick Vases, the most notable being a set of 12 commissioned by the Prince Regent and struck with the mark for Paul Storr, now at Windsor Castle. The Duke of York, second son of George III, owned a set of four which were included in the sale of his silver at Christie’s in 1827.

This highly decorative silver version weighs 4316 grams and stands 41.8 cm (including the plinth). It sits on a spreading circular stem, with its main body cast and chased with a band of acanthus foliage and with lion’s pelt and bacchic masks.

It also features an egg-and-dart rim with trailing vines and twin dual interlaced vine handles. The ebonised wooden plinth is applied with two rectangular plaques and two vacant laurel wreath cartouches. One of the rectangular plaques is finely engraved with the Royal Coat of Arms and the opposing plaque is engraved with a presentation inscription reading: Plymouth, Devonport and Cornwall Races 1845, the gift of her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria. It is stamped Hunt & Roskell Late Storr & Mortimer 2225 and carries an estimate of £20,000 to £30,000.

John Rogers, Head of Silver at Chiswick Auctions, said the company was thrilled to offer “such a stunning historical piece, made with such craftsmanship”.

“The fact that it remained with the family for so long without them knowing what it was, is astounding and I’m delighted that both the vase and plinth were reunited and it can be offered in its full glory.”

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