Item ref: 4117
Private collection, England
English 17th century sword hilts built on an amber core are extremely rare and the present one must count among only a very few surviving examples. Cut from of a single piece of amber, the grip swells from its base to form a domed shouldered pommel, an accentuated version of the style of pommel found on the fine agate hilts produced in London in the latter decade of the 17th century. The polished finish reveals a series of dark inclusions adding to the marbled effect of the natural material.
Historically the greatest quantities of amber were to be found along East Prussia’s Baltic coast, on the shores of the Curonian lagoon and on those enclosing former Königsberg on the Sambia peninsula. Used in the manufacturing of a range of luxurious small works of art and domestic wares since the medieval period, raw amber was exported throughout the known world. From the 16th to end of the 18th centuries the collecting of amber was of sufficient value to the Prussian Duchy that it was a state prerogative, any local inhabitants caught removing amber were liable to severe punishment, even sentence of death.
The present hilt is made the more striking by the addition of a highly prominent silver tang-button, which is finely cast in the round in the form of the St. Edwards crown. Relatively newly made for the coronation of Charles II in 1661, the crown was used for the subsequent coronations of James II in 1685 and William III in 1689. The maker of this hilt, Thomas Vicaridge, was perhaps inspired by the nearness of either these latter dates in embellishing his work with a representation of the coronation crown.
Vickaridge is considered to have been a leading silver-hilt maker and sword-cutler. He was sworn Free of the Cutlers’ Company 25th April 1682 and upon payment of a fifteen shillings fee was admitted to the Company. He is confirmed as working as a silver-hilt maker from the date of his Freedom of the Company until the introduction of the Britannia standard silver in 1697. Over the length of this period he is recorded working in New Street precinct in the parish of St. Brides, Fleet St., the ward of Farringdon Without, City of London.
Another hunting-sword with a silver hilt by Vickaridge is in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Inv. No. 937-1984), another is in the National Maritime Museum (Inv. No. 339): each of these has a staghorn grip conventional to the period.