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The Islington cup

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    1802-1803 (hallmarked)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thurston, John, born 1774 - died 1822 (designer)
    Coffin, Edmund, born 1761 (modeller)
    Preedy, Joseph (maker)
    Roper, John (engraver)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Silver, parcel-gilt, chased and engraved

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with Art Fund support, and the assistance of the Associates of the V&A, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, the Islington Cup Appeal and the citizens of the London Borough of Islington

  • Museum number:

    M.12 to B-1987

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 120, The Wolfson Galleries, case 11 []

Object Type
The Islington cup is a piece of presentation silver. Gifts of silver to mark important events or rites of passage, to reward service or excellence, to enter societies and institutions and as diplomatic presents had a longstanding and honourable tradition in Britain. To increase the compliment, the form of the gift was often, as here, unusually lavish, elaborate and fashionable. The ornament might reflect the preferences and associations of the new owner. For example, on this cup the instruments on the base refer to the recipient's interest in astronomy, while the arts of war on the cover are linked to his regimental duties. The cup was expected to be displayed, but the unusually well-preserved surfaces of matt silver against gilt show that it has been stored in its lined case and rarely handled.

An inscription on the reverse records the presentation of the cup to Alexander Aubert (1730-1805), the officer commanding the Loyal Islington Volunteers, in gratitude for his leadership. This regiment, formed in 1797, was one of many part-time local forces raised in response to the threat of French invasion during the Revolutionary War. It never saw active service, but had a membership of 314 when, with peace declared, it disbanded in 1801. It was at this point that the cup was commissioned from the silversmith Joseph Preedy.

The particular importance of this cup for art historians is that the inscriptions on the base record the names of the other contributors to its design and manufacture that often lie unknown behind the silversmith's mark. The cup's designer, John Thurston (1774-1822), worked as a book illustrator and exhibited at the Royal Academy; the modeller, Edmund Coffin, was a sculptor of church monuments; and the engraver, John Roper, made city plans. According to a report in The Times for 1803 the cup cost 250 guineas, and it was presented to Aubert on the second anniversary of the disbanding of the regiment. Aubert, a director of the London Assurance Company, owned one of the finest observatories in Britain at Highbury House, Islington, hence the allusions to astronomy on the cup's base.

Physical description

The Islington Cup, silver, parcel-gilt, 49 x 31 x 21.5 cm, London date hallmark.

Place of Origin

London (made)


1802-1803 (hallmarked)


Thurston, John, born 1774 - died 1822 (designer)
Coffin, Edmund, born 1761 (modeller)
Preedy, Joseph (maker)
Roper, John (engraver)

Materials and Techniques

Silver, parcel-gilt, chased and engraved

Marks and inscriptions

On body: maker, duty, sterling, date letter, leopard; On lid: date, sterling and duty; inscription engraved by John Roper

With a cast shield with the arms of Alexander Aubert, Commandant of the Loyal Islington Volunteers. The reverse inscription records the presentation of the cup to Aubert in gratitude for his leadership.

Arms of, and inscription dedicated to Col. Alexander Aubert.


Height: 49 cm, Width: 31 cm, Depth: 21.5 cm, Weight: 4484 g of cup

Object history note

Designed by John Thurston (1774-1822); modelled by Edmund Coffin (born in 1761); made in London by Joseph Preedy; inscription engraved by John Roper

The Volunteers were a local, part-time force formed in response to the threat from post-Revolutionary France. They never saw active service and disbanded in 1801, at which point the cup was commissioned. Unusually, the foot is engraved with the names of the designer, John Thurston, and modeller, Edmund Coffen, as well as the silversmith. The design has been assembled with some care. While celebrating the arts of war on the cover, with the particular accoutrements of the Corps, the head of Mercury and astronomical instruments on the base refer to Aubert's interest in astronomy. He had a magnificent observatory at Highbury House, Islington, from where he observed the transit of Venus on 3 June 1769, also commemorated on the cup by an engraved chart. The lion's skin wrapped around the body of the cup was a symbol of the strength and unity of the Corps. The monumental nature of the composition was devised solely for display. The cup would have been kept largely in its case, to preserve the finish of the contrasting surfaces - matt silver against gilt. "

Neg._No: HG 1390 case;HG 1394 mks; HG 1398 base; HG 1393 lid; HG 1392 inscr.; HG 1391 cup; HG 1395 det; HG 1396 det; HG 1397 det

Historical context note

The cup was presented to Alexander Aubert on 20 January 1803. Aubert was an important commercial figure, a friend and champion of the engineer John Smeaton, and the owner of one of the best private observatories in Britain. The decoration at the foot of the cup alludes to his observation of the transit of Venus in 1769. The cup was later in the possession of William DuCann Luard (b.1862) and descended in the Luard family as it was sold by Commander William Blaise Luard, OBE RN rtd FIN Sotheby's Gleneagles 26 August 1971 lot 144 (information from NACF Annual Report, 1987)

Descriptive line

The Islington Cup, silver, parcel-gilt, London hallmarks for 1802-3, designed by John Thurston, modelled by Edmund Coffin, mark of Joseph Preedy.

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

Baker, Malcolm, and Brenda Richardson (eds.), A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London: V&A Publications, 1999.
Nelson, John, The History, Topography and Antiquities of the Parish of St. Mary Islington, London, 1911, 3rd ed. 1829. Culme, John, Nineteenth Century Silver, London 1977, pp.100 & 130-1. Burlington Magazine, May 1989, p.385-92, fig. XV. London Standard, 16 September 1986. The Guardian, 17 September & 11 November 1986. Country Life, 18 September 1986, p.872. Museums Bulletin, Vol. 20, no. 10., January 1987. Antique Dealer & Collector's Guide, January 1987. Islington Museum Matters, No. 1, April 1987.
National Art-Collections Fund Review, 1987, pp.133-5

Labels and date

British Galleries:
This silver cup was offered as a reward for service to the nation. It was presented to Alexander Aubert, commanding officer of the Loyal Islington Volunteers, a local London regiment formed in 1797 in response to the threat from France. [27/03/2003]

Subjects depicted

Masks; Acanthus; Cannon; Horns; Shields; Deities; Figures; Vines; Flowers; Flags; Serpents; Standards; Drums; Fruit


Metalwork; Containers


Metalwork Collection

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