Alastair's Armada silver

By Rosanna Holmes,
14th October 2009 - 15:59

Roadshow expert Alastair Dickenson enjoyed a high point in his career last week when he bought two extremely rare Elizabethan plates that were made from silver captured from the Spanish Armada.
 
Bidding on the phone, Alastair bought the silver plates for a client for £135,000.

‘These plates are one of the most important lots of Elizabethan silver to come up at auction in my 38 years of dealing,’ he says.
 
Made in 1600 and 1601, the plates belonged to Sir Christopher Harris, from Devon, advisor and friend to Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake. They were two of about 31 commissioned to mark the conquering of the Spanish naval fleet and used at a dinner thrown by Sir Christopher at his estate in Radford.

The plates were passed down through the family until they were buried during the English Civil War in 1645 in an underground potato store at a farm in Brixton, near Plymouth. They remained there for nearly 200 years before they were found by farm workers and returned to the Harris family.  
 
Between 1827 and 1885 five of the plates went missing again, as records show that only 26 were sold at auction in 1885 and again at Christie’s in about 1910 when they made a world record price. More recently, the British Museum acquired the set of 26 in 1992 and the whereabouts of the other five remained unknown until the sale at Lawrence’s of Crewkerne last week. The pair had ended up in America and were bought at auction in the southern states before finding their way into the Somerset saleroom. Still no one knows the location of the other three.
 
Alastair bought the plates for a client who has one of the finest collections of Elizabethan silver in the country.
 
‘They are exceptionally rare,’ adds Alastair. ‘In all my time in the business, not a single plate has come up at auction. They’re so iconic and one of the most reproduced objects you’ll find anywhere. The other three are out there somewhere. Sometimes a sale like this brings out others.’

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