Silver goblets are pieces which are imbued with history, and are also considered to be intriguing items, as they were often used for drinking alcoholic beverages that would have been traditionally been consumed at ceremonies or significant events.
Silver goblets often feature gilding on the interior of the cup, so as to protect the silver from being tarnished by the beverages that it contained, and silver goblets frequently feature a knop to the stem, which could be an element of design intended to make holding the piece easier.
Goblets are a consistently popular item of antique silver, undoubtedly because they can be a functional piece which is still used in the home, or as ornamentation they provide a unique sense of proximity to the past, and to the history of its previous owners.
The word goblet is derived from the Middle English word ‘gobelet’ meaning ‘cup’. Originally the word goblet was synonymous with ‘chalice’ because of its religious connotations, however the difference between the two objects is slight; often if a piece has a larger or wider base, or features any religious imagery such as an image of a cross, this can be considered a chalice rather than a goblet.
At AC Silver we have a wide range of goblets exhibiting designs spanning centuries and imbued with complex history and significance. Goblets can be misrepresented as ancient relics rather than practical, sturdy pieces of silverware that can be used as drinking vessels for any occasion.
The designs featured on these drinking goblets - whether minimal or highly ornamented - are indicative of the era, origin, history of the silversmith and for whom the vessel was commissioned.
It has been documented that simple drinking vessels made from pottery were in use from 4500BC – 3500BC. During the Bronze Age, 2500 – 1500BC, metalworking techniques were introduced and developed, resulting in items being crafted out of bronze and gold.
The importation of wine, pottery and precious metal arrived following the Roman invasion. This further enhanced the nature of metalwork during this era.
Medieval drinking bowls, known as mazera, were crafted in maplewood, but examples have been discovered ornamented with silver or silver gilt bands around the lip and foot; this formation was replicated in later centuries with the innovation of coconut cup drinking vessels. This suggests that over time, it was realised that silver was an excellent conductor of heat and propagated a soft, warm feel; furthermore, suggesting silver was appreciated as an aesthetically pleasing ornamental addition to the home or a specific building.
Historical records show that in the mid-fifteenth century landed gentry (British social class consisting of land owners) were recorded as owning ‘gobelettes and cuppes’ crafted in silver. This is evidence that the goblet as we know it, in its fairly unchanging form, has been used for over 600 years. Probably due to the basic but practical design, it could not be improved upon - modern wine glasses, although usually made from glass, are incredibly similar to sterling silver goblets with their flat bases, thin stems and conical bowls.
By the seventeenth century the superstitious belief that precious metals promoted better health increased the demand for silver goblets, over those of wood. These were not available to most of society due to high cost and therefore remained exclusively for the richest until the silver price decreased.
By the mid seventeenth century the availability of drinking glasses, along with the higher cost of precious metal, created a move towards two-handled cups and superseded the use of gold or silver goblets in the home.
Antique silver goblets still have a place in the modern home; recently interior design has focused on the use of elemental pieces, incorporating as many raw materials as possible into the home. Pieces of a lesser quality which have been crafted on mass are now widely available and often these pieces take inspiration from the fine ornamentation of the more luxurious and grandiose examples of sterling silver service ware.
Goblet and chalice are often thought to be interchangeable, yet the core difference between the two is the thickness of the walls. Chalices are often thicker with heavier ‘feet’, referring to stemmed base of the cup. Goblets have longer, thinner wine-like stems and often more rounded in their form than chalices, that tend to be triangular or square based. Both goblets and chalices can be both ornately engraved and decorated.
The term chalice is derived from the Latin term for cup ‘calix’ alongside the ancient Greek ‘kálux’ and often denotes a more religious purpose than a goblet. Antique chalices are often engraved with the form of a cross or an inscription referring to prayer, God or Jesus.
If a piece has a large, wider base this often signifies that it was used by many as part of a religious ceremony, furthermore the shape of the cup also indicates it’s use; a more square or triangular shape is more likely to be an attribute of a chalice, whereas often a goblet will have a more rounded, graduating form between the stem and the lip of the cup.