Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"Britain's Scattered heritage": The King's Shaving Mug

In 1837 workmen engaged in construction work took some building stone from a mound on part of Bodmin Moor, at Rillaton in Cornwall. This turned out to be a Bronze Age burial cairn, and in it was a chamber, 2.4 m long and 1.1 m wide. It contained the decayed remains of a human skeleton accompanied by this gold cup, a bronze dagger and other objects that have not survived - a decorated pottery vessel, a 'metallic rivet', 'some pieces of ivory' and 'a few glass beads'. The pot and gold cup were set beneath a slab leaning against the west wall of the cist.

The main body of this prehistoric cup was beaten out of a single lump of gold of high purity. The corrugated profile would have required great skill to achieve. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, it added strength to the thin sheet metal. The handle is decorated with two sets of grooves and is neatly rivetted to the body through lozenge-shaped washers.

The Duchy of Cornwall at this time had rights over any treasure found within it (as bona vacantia) and the finds were therefore sent to William IV (reigned 1831-37) very shortly before his death. They remained in the royal household. According to hearsay, the cup stood in the dressing room of King George V and may have been used as a royal shaving mug (other versions have him keeping his collar studs in it). It was apparently sold in 1936, apparently after the death of George V, though enquiries of the Royal Household have been unable to elicit the precise details. The associated dagger however was acquired by the British Museum in 1937, but none of the other finds have since been relocated. The cup seems to have been in the hands of a private collector of royal memorabilia in New Zealand in the 1950s, but all track of it has since been lost. The Cornish Heritage Society is attempting to locate the current whereabouts of the object and obtain its return to Truro.

the Rillaton mug from the catalogue, "Britain's lost treasures".
the site of the discovery


  1. The Rillaton cup, along with the dagger, was also given on long-term loan to the British Museum in 1936. It is one of their artefact 'highlights' and is displayed alongside the Ringlemere Cup (a gold cup found in Kent which became part of the BM's collection in 2003). It is technically still owned by the Royal Collection. Although there is a Cornish campaign to return the original cup to Cornwall (there is a replica on display in Cornwall), it is definitely not lost, and is definitely still in Britain!

  2. Umm, you DID read what this blog is about did you?

    But thanks for the information anyway, at least Britain's not lost much of her heritage - unlike the countries who've had theirs ripped off by other countries. Now give the Parthenon Marbles back.