The Selborne Cup
The area around Blackmoor House, Woolmer Forest has seen a number of discoveries of Roman material over the years. In 1741, as Gilbert White records in the Natural History of Selborne, Woolmer Pond dried up and several hundred copper coins, including some of Marcus Aurelius (AD 146-180), were revealed. Thirty years later another hoard was discovered nearby, contained in a pottery vessel. This featured coins from the time of Claudius (AD 43) to that of Commodus (AD 192).
In 1867, when Blackmoor House was being rebuilt, several more finds were made including a human cremation burial in a pottery urn. It was this deposit that also contained the Selborne Cup, along with a bronze patera and a worn coin of Lucius Verus (161-169). The cup remained in the possession of the Selborne family for many years, before being sold at auction at Christies in 1975. In 1983 it was bought by Hampshire County Council Museums Service and is now displayed at the Curtis Museum in Alton.
When the cup came into the museum's possession the two halves were stuck together with old postage stamp edging paper and there was some evidence of corrosion. It was given a careful cleaning by the conservator of antiquities under a low-power microscope, treated with chemicals to prevent the spread of corrosion, and strengthened. To reinforce the base and stick the halves back together, an adhesive was used which can be easily removed if necessary.
A report by the British Museum states that enamelled bronze vessels, as a class, are quite rare and the pattern on this one is high quality work. It describes the beaker as 106mm in height, of barrel-shape; constructed from two matching cup-shaped sections. The base is a separate piece of metal and there is a plain band of copper alloy 17mm deep around the rim. There is an ancient repair around the base, somewhat clumsily formed of a bronze patch about 30mm by 35 mm.
The small strap handle is placed high on one side and would have been soldered onto the rim. Its lower attachment plate, now lost, would have been fixed at the point of maximum diameter, where the two cup-shaped sections are joined. There is also a scar, suggesting the former presence of another handle, on the opposite side of the rim, but there is no corresponding mark on the body of the vessel. The existing handle appears to be a secondary addition and so, possibly, is the plain rim-band itself, which covers some of the enamel decoration.
One of the most remarkable features of the cup is its decoration. The body of the beaker is covered with an intricate curvilinear design in polychrome enamel, incorporating cells of distinctive leaf-like shapes. There appear to be five colours - red, yellow, dark blue, turquoise and light green - although the last two are very similar in their present condition. The enamel is in a good state, though the base metal itself is damaged and corroded in many places and there is a considerable iron corrosion over the surface, presumably from the circumstances of the burial environment
There are no close parallels for this vessel. In his paper on enamelled bronze vessels Moore (1978) lists a total of fourteen examples from Britain, the majority being small hemispherical cups, with or without handles. (The existence of the Selborne cup was not known to him).
The style of enamelling has some features in common with an incomplete and unprovenanced vessel now in the French National Museum at St. Germain-en-Laye (Henry, 1933). This vessel could be the same shape as the Selborne cup, but it is not possible to be certain. There is no other enamelled vessel from Britain with a similar style of decoration.
The pottery urn is a bead-rimmed jar produced locally by the Alice Holt/Farnham potteries (Lyne & Jefferies, 1979) and represents a type of vessel which was less important to the industry after the mid-2nd century.
Thanks go to Kim Webster for putting together the first draft of this note, to Dorothy Allen for helping with the second, and Catherine Johns of the British Museum for reporting on the significance of the cup.
The references quoted are as follows
Henry, F, 1933, Emailleurs d'Occident, Prehistoire 2, Fig.45, 5.
Lyne,M, & Jefferies,R, 1979, The Alice Holt/Farnham Roman Pottery Industry, CBA Research Report,30.
Moore, C N 1978, An Enamelled Skillet-Handle from Brough-on-Fosse and the distribution of similar vessels, Britannia 9, 319
Purchased with the assistance of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund
The grey pottery vessel in which Selborne Cup was found. (VCH Volume 1 p 339)