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Wassail set

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1640-1680 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Lignum vitae, with ivory decoration

  • Museum number:

    W.8 to k-1976

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 56, The Djanogly Gallery, case 12 []

Object Type

This is the bowl from a set made for serving wassail or spiced ale. Other wassail bowls and cups survive, but only this set has a table and candlestands to match. The bowl and cups are in a style made over a long period, but could date from the 1640s.

Historical Associations

The set was owned by one family for generations before it was bought by the V&A in 1976. Family tradition claims that Charles I gave it to Sir Charles Cokayne, 1st Viscount Cullen, after the Civil War battle at Naseby in 1645. Although the battle did take place near Cokayne's house, Rushton Hall, Northamptonshire, the style of the furniture suggests that this story could only apply to the bowl and cups. The table and stands must have been added later, in the 1670s, when spirally turned supports were fashionable.

Materials & Making

The set is made of lignum vitae, a dense wood imported from the West Indies. It was often used for wassail bowls as its high oil content makes it resistant to liquids. It also takes incised decoration well. Both the wood and the ivory, which provides a strong contrast, are decorated with 'rose engine turning', in which delicate circular patterns are incised into the material while it is spun on a lathe.

Physical description

Wassail table, lignum vitae with ivory decoration, enriched with “rose engine turning”.
Wassail bowl with lids, lignum vitae, with ivory decoration.
Wassail dippers, lignum vitae, with silver rim.
Wassail candlestands, lignum vitae with ivory decoration.
Wassail candlestick, lignum vitae with ivory decoration.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1640-1680 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Lignum vitae, with ivory decoration


Height: 50 cm wassail bowl, Height: 76 cm wassail table, Width: 89 cm wassail table, Width: 89 cm wassail table, Depth: 58.4 cm wassail table, Diameter: 7.7 cm wassail dipper, Height: 93 cm candlestand, Height: 24 cm wassail candlestick

Object history note

This unique ceremonial drinking ensemble is said to have been presented to Sir Charles Cokayne, first Viscount Cullen, by Charles I after the battle of Naseby in 1645. (Dating casts doubt on this tradition). Close inspection of the engine-turned rose ornament shows that two separate craftsmen were involved. The candlestands and table were probably added to make up a set with the wassail bowl and candlesticks in about 1670-80

"Royal Wassail ensemble" table & vessels purchased from Spink & Son Ltd
Notes from R.P. 76/666

8/3/76 Memo P Thornton to the Director recommends purchase. "It is a very attractive work of exquisite craftsmanship, it has fascinating associations with several fields of English history". Well documented provenance, publications list & detals of some restorations detailed in Thornton memo (copy on RP)

14/4/76 Lord Cullen to Thornton in response to a previous query that there are no records available in the Family collection. "Had there been I am quite sure that my grandfather G E Cokayne (the author of the Complete Peerage) would have discovered them - I suppose it is possible that there may be some record of the gift to my ancestor by Charles I in the royal archives".

Per 29/4/77 Thornton memo re. tax rebates Spinks advertised the set and also showed it at the Antique Dealers Fair after it was bought by the V & A

Descriptive line

Wassail set, lignum vitae with ivory decoration, England, ca. 1640-80, Rushton House, Northants

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Wilk, Christopher, ed. . Western Furniture 1350 to the Present Day. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1996. 230p., ill. ISBN 085667463X.
Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Wassail or spiced ale was served at Christmas and on feast days. This elaborate set for serving wassail shows the fine spiral-turning that was a distinctive element of Restoration style. The strongly contrasted luxury materials from which it is made, lignum vitae and ivory, would have been imported. [27/03/2003]


Woodwork; Drinking; Christmas


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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