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History of the Silver Nef

A Nef can be used as an intricate and detailed dining table ornament, container or centrepiece. Nefs were often crafted from precious metals like silver, silver-gilt or gold and adorned with enamel and jewels.

Silver nef
Sterling silver nef history
History of the silver nef

Nef History

Nefs can be recorded as early as 1239 in France; their use has slightly evolved throughout time. They were most popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance when people in the shipping business had a lot of money, therefore owning a nef became a symbol of wealth. This was further emphasised by the nefs use of holding delicacies such as salt. Due to salt being a precious commodity during those periods, the saying "someone is worth their salt”, meant if somebody had a lot of salt, they were wealthy. Nefs would display the salt and show off the persons wealth to everyone.

Uses of the Nef

Although initially nefs consisted of just the hull, perhaps to be used for drinking cups, they soon became too crowded to hold anything, as by the 14th century so much detail was added from sails to crew, as was the case with this exceptional Victorian silver nef.

History of a nef
WHat is a nef
Antique Nef

They have been used for holding dining implements such as cutlery, napkins and spices. However, for dinner parties or special occasions, the hull could hold wine and special condiments. Mostly, nefs had legs or pedestals, which proved particularly useful at dinner parties, especially ones with wheels (pictured right), as they can be wheeled around the table to serve the guests.

Through time the functional nef lost favour, becoming a more substantial and imposing centrepiece than a part of the dining experience.

Nefs and Wealth

Not everyone had a nef, due to this they were often used as a mark of status at a dinner party with the nef being placed in front of the most important person at the table. They were exclusively used during elaborate meals such as banquets for Kings, Queens, Emperors and Dukes and the nef would be presented ceremoniously to the king to distinguish him from the other guests.

View our collection of
Silver Centrepieces
Andrew Campbell started trading in antiques during the 1970s. Initially, Andrew lived in the South of England, travelling the country, searching for items of silver to buy. Andrew sold these items at various London markets and antique fairs. Over time, and through selling at a range of venues, Andrew built up a large and diverse customer base from private buyers to national and international trade customers.
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