A rare coffee urn

Hendrik van Pruysen, Amsterdam, 1697

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A rare coffee urn


A chased lobed coffee-urn in conical shape supported by three dolphin-shaped feet each standing on a ribbed arch. The upper and lower rims of the urn are decorated with narrow scrolling bands, while the lower rim is further embellished by an even gadrooned border. The cast spout is shaped as a sea monster and the tap is surmounted by a merman blowing a horn. The lobed sides of the urn are richly decorated with floral motives on the upper and lower parts: flowers, foliage and branches in erratic shapes in the so-called cut-card technique (these shapes are sawn from a flat piece of silver and soldered onto the sides of the urn). The ground of this decoration is slightly rough. The stylised handle has scrolling borders and a diminishing pearl border. The detachable lobed cover is decorated in the same cut-card technique as the urn, has an even gadrooned border and is surmounted by a flat baluster finial.

During the last part of the 17th century a new, costly decoration technique was developed, probably because of the improvement of materials and tools, such as an improved type of steel that enabled the use of a rolling mill that could produce flat sheets of silver. This type of steel also enabled the use of improved and harder saws. Nowadays, this new decoration technique is still called ‘cut-card’ in various languages. Even in France where this manner of decoration was probably used for the first time, most likely in Paris. Michèle Bimbenet-Privat, curator of the Louvre Museum, shows several objects decorated in this way in her extensive publication Les orfèvres et l’orfèvrerie de Paris au XVII siècle. The earliest object is an écuelle, a small tureen for bouillon, dated 1656.

The Dutch silversmith Adam Loofs, who had worked in the royal workshops in Paris, was one of the silversmiths who introduced this technique in The Hague and other places. Loofs was soon appointed ordinaris goud- en zilversmid mitsgaders zilverbewaarder (gold and silversmith as well as silver steward) to Stadtholder William III because of his outstanding work.
When William III becomes the King of England, Loofs still receives important commissions from the English capital from the King-Stadtholder. Nowadays, only a few objects are known in the Netherlands, such as a beautiful baptismal set and a caster.

Only recently it was found out that in the Dutch language there already was a clear description of this technique:
Doorgebroken Zilversmidtswerk
This term is used for a decoration of mostly flowers and foliage that is sawn from a flat piece of silver and soldered –invisibly- onto a flat body with a surface that is often roughened by punches.

In his book Amsterdams Goud en Zilver (Gold and Silver from Amsterdam) from 1999, Jan Rudolph de Lorm refers to two prints by Johannes Folkema, so-called title pages of Allerhande Voorbeelden van Doorgebroken Zilversmidswerk (All sorts of Examples of ‘Doorgebroken Zilversmidswerk’), published by Carel Allard in circa 1695. These prints show designs for ornaments that could be made with this innovative technique.

Studying the objects that are described in the literature, it is apparent that this technique was mainly used for designing and manufacturing objects that were used to serve new, fashionable beverages: coffee and tea. Around two thirds of the known objects are coffee pots, teapots, water cisterns and tea caddies. A notable name connected to these pieces is that of Hendrik van Pruysen.

Hendrik van Pruysen was born in Danzig around 1650. In 1680 he was registered with the burgher register in Amsterdam after he married Jannetje Pieter Strik in this same city. Subsequently he worked as a silversmith and up to his death in 1722 he lived in the Kalverstraat. He left a daughter Johanna who would marry the Amsterdam silversmith Cornelis Hilberts.

This special decoration technique was used in a time when new pleasures such as drinking tea and coffee came into fashion. This new culture was expensive and therefore only available to the elite. A costly material such as silver was appropriate for it. The objects that were decorated with this cut-card technique were therefore mostly objects that were used in the coffee and tea ceremony, such as coffee jars, teapots, water kettles, tea caddies and casters.


When in the 15th century the coffee plant and the coffee bean are merely of botanical interest, at the end of the century travel reports start to mention the use of an ‘ink-black drink that is healthy for the upset stomach; one should drink this early in the morning, also in public places, for everyone and without constraint, from earthenware and deep porcelain dishes, as hot as is bearable, taking it to the lips with small sips and swirl it around and around…’ Travel report of Leonart Rauwulf from 1582. A description in similar words could still be written in our day and age…

From the middle of the 17th century onwards the habit of drinking coffee came into fashion, both as a medicine and for pleasure. However, the habit was expensive and thus a privilege of the elite. The produce was grown on the Ethiopian highlands and was sold in Mocha in Jemen, a place that today has an iconic name. It arrived in Europe via the trade routes, possibly it appeared in Venice first. It later spread from the south to the north. After the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the trade routes to the East, India and even further away, were available to the Portuguese and later predominantly to the Dutch. Only after the VOC (Dutch East India Company) handed out coffee plants to land owners in Java at the beginning of the 18th century, a larger quantity could be produced that led to a more widespread use of this luxurious beverage.

To be able to drink coffee one needed ‘coffee instruments’, to store and serve the coffee. To such a luxurious good belongs a precious metal like silver. In the Republic, the oldest known silver coffee pot was made around 1690. The use of ceramics and precious metal have a parallel development. From the last decennium of the 17th century only a small number of silver coffee pots is known. The catalogue of the exhibition Uit verre landen, Koffie, thee en andere koloniale waren in the Noordbrabants Museum in 2015 illustrates various examples.

Hendrik van Pruysen, Amsterdam, 1697

height 32.4 cm

1244 gr


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