Silver has been Scotland’s most prized precious metal since the first millennium AD, first arriving in the form of coins brought by the Roman army. Local Scottish tribes would collect these coins, not because they had any value outside of Roman territory, but because they were a symbol of Roman favor and high status.
In the third century AD, the use of hacksilver was introduced. Hacksilver is exactly what it sounds like: silver objects that have been hacked to pieces. Before recently, archaeologists thought that the Scottish tribes were the ones cutting up the silver, but new discoveries have clarified that the Roman armies were the ones doing the hacking. They sliced up the silver into parcels that weighed a specific amount and used them for trading, gifting to local clans, or even for pitting those clans against one another. Hacksilver was made to be reused and melted into new objects, so we begin to see evidence of silversmithing in Scotland during this time. It was most often used to make religious objects or beautifully-wrought jewelry. In the latter half of the millennium, the supply of Roman hacksilver began to run short, and copper alloy was mixed with silver to extend that supply as much as possible.
The arrival of the Vikings introduced new sources of silver and spurred a period of economic growth. Silver became an even more crucial commodity in Scotland, and was used to create objects of high importance and cultural significance. Customers would often bring their own silver to be wrought; the objects were usually symbolically gifted to religious institutions or used as drinking vessels.
As time passed, Scottish silver grew in popularity and ornateness, setting fashion precedents in 18th century England. Today, Scottish silver is as stunning as it is functional and unique. At the Silver Vault of Charleston, we are lucky enough to have a number of Scottish silver pieces, so even now we can still enjoy their exquisite craftsmanship and rich histories.
Traditional Scottish Silver Forms
Within the world of silversmithing, there are a number of traditional forms that originated in Scotland that are still made today. The bullet teapot, for example, was often crafted in Scottish silver. It was mounted on a pedestal with a spherical shape. In addition, the harsh spoon, a long utensil meant for meat and potatoes, is a traditional Scottish form.
Another of these distinctly Scottish silver forms is called the Quaich, also called the “Cup of Friendship,” or the “Loving Cup.” The quaich is a small, shallow cup with two short handles on each side called “lugs.” The vessel was used to drink whiskey or wine, and was often given to people as a sign of trust and comradery. The drink is also offered and received with both hands; therefore, in the medieval era, it ensured that neither party was carrying any weapons. Both had to be vulnerable to the other, thus showing trust. The quaich was, and still is, used in traditional Scottish weddings. During the Quaich Ceremony, the couple takes their first drink together from the vessel, each holding onto one of the lugs. This symbolizes the blending of families and unification of two into one.
The Silver Vault of Charleston is thrilled to house a few of these Scottish quaiches. They are perfect for intimate weddings, joyful gatherings, and exchanges between friends. They are the best example of how silver brings people together.
The rare nature of silver means that there are often traces of ancient silver mixed into all the silver we can purchase today. This means that our quaiches most likely contain the silver of the Vikings or the medieval Scots. As the silversmithing expert, Corinne Julius, says, “In using silver we are incorporating the past, the present, and the future.”
Scottish Sterling Tablespoon: https://www.silvervaultcharleston.com/products/scottish-sterling-silver-tablespoon-george-jamieson-aberdeen-1848-1849
Scottish Sterling Rice and Stuffing Spoon: https://www.silvervaultcharleston.com/products/sterling-rice-platter-stuffing-spoon-in-kings-attr-charles-neal-and-daniel-may-glasgow-1835-1836
Scottish Sterling Sugar Shovel: https://www.silvervaultcharleston.com/products/scottish-sterling-silver-sugar-shovel-donald-mcdonald-edinburgh-1864-1865
Scottish Sterling Silver and Vermeil Powdered Sugar Sifter: https://www.silvervaultcharleston.com/products/scottish-sterling-silver-and-vermeil-powdered-sugar-sifter-attributed-to-william-cunningham-edinburgh-1818-1819
Scottish Sterling Silver Quaich with Celtic Design: https://www.silvervaultcharleston.com/products/scottish-sterling-silver-quaich-with-celtic-design-on-lugs-and-with-fitted-case-unidentified-maker-edinburgh-2003
Scottish Sterling Silver Quaich with Hammered Surface: https://www.silvervaultcharleston.com/products/scottish-sterling-silver-quaich-with-hammered-surface-mappin-and-webb-edinburgh-1996-1997
English Sterling Silver Quaich: https://www.silvervaultcharleston.com/products/english-sterling-silver-quaich-w-hutton-sons-ltd-sheffield-1930-1931
Scottish Silver Overview | The History Of | AC Silver
Archaeology by Design: Contemporary Silversmithing and the New Glenmorangie Commission | National Museums Scotland Blog (nms.ac.uk)
How silver became Scotland's precious metal of choice - BBC News
A Little History of the Quaich (stkildastore.com)
History of the Quaich (thequaichcompany.com)
The Quaich Ceremony | Home (argyll-bute.gov.uk)
Quaich or Loving Cup • Irish Traditions • Fine Gifts in the Celtic Tradition (irishtraditionsonline.com)
History of Quaich or Loving cup and How to use it in your Wedding. — Unique Celtic Wedding Rings
Jones, E. Alfred (1911). "Quaich". In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 22 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 708.
The Scotsman's staff (18 March 2010), "Sir Walter Scott", The Scotsman, retrieved 7 July 2015
The Herald staff (21 April 1994), "Priceless heirlooms lost from Scott's home. Thieves take Abbotsford treasures", The Herald