Are you familiar with the story of the Cheapside Hoard? I am going to assume that you are NOT familiar with said story. Here are the facts. On June 18, 1912, in the heart of London at 30-32 Cheapside St., laborers were demolishing three dilapidated tenement buildings. As a worker’s pickaxe broke through the cellar floor of one of the tenement houses, they noticed a wooden box. Buried in the box, were more than 500 pieces of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewelry, all mashed together in a tangled heap. There were rings, brooches and chains, enameled gold settings, gold, carved gem figures, cameos, fan holders, crystal tankards, toadstones, a perfume bottle and a unusual emerald watch. By the way, the name Cheapside was given to that particular area because it meant “marketplace”. The workers did not know it yet, but this hoard was the working inventory of a 17th century jeweler that had been lying in the ground undisturbed for over 300 years. The Cheapside Hoard, as it is now known, was and is the largest and most important treasure of its kind ever to be found. A captivating collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewelry and a true time capsule. Most of the hoard is now in the Museum of London, with some items held by the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is believed that the hoard was buried between 1640 and 1666. No one still knows who buried the jewels, why they were bured or why they were never retrieved. Those 26 years saw the Civil War, the Great Plague and the Fire of London. Buried and forgotten I think! This reliquary pendant (dated 1501 to 1625) incorporates bloodstone cameos of the head of Christ, with a text from the Gospel of John, “I am the Way the Truth and the Life,” and a profile bust of the Virgin Mary, with the legend “Mother of Jesus Christ”. The inner hoop is enameled with the Instruments of the Passion, i.e., a spear, (actually a lance) a ladder, a spike, a scourge, etc. The cutter chose bloodstone to underline the theological message of the jewel, selecting the most visibly flecked bloodstone for the head of Christ. It is thought that the hoard was found on the premises of a Jacobean goldsmith and the hoard was his inventory buried in the cellar during the English Civil War. Cheapside was at the commercial heart of the City of London in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods with many luxury shops in the neighborhood, including goldsmiths. The row of houses where the hoard was found was owned by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and was known as Goldsmith’s Row. Goldsmith’s Row was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The buildings were reconstructed by the Goldsmith’s Company in 1667. This is a scent bottle, or pomander. The gold bottle with white enamel is set with milky chalcedony carvings of leaves, rubies, pink sapphires, spinels and diamonds. The hoard is a fascinating look at the international trade in luxury goods of the period, including gemstones from sources across South America, Asia and Europe. For example, there were emeralds from Colombia, topaz and amazonite from Brazil, spinel, iolite, and chrysoberyl from Sri Lanka, diamonds from India, rubies from Burma, Afghan lapis and Persian turquoise and pearls from Bahrain and peridot from the Red Sea. Most of the gemstones are cabochon cut, but there were a few with more modern faceted cuts, including rose and star cuts. There is a Byzantine gemstone cameo, a cameo of Queen Elizabeth I, and an emerald parrot. Most of the gold is of the “Paris touch” standard of 19.2 carats (80% pure). A particularly large Columbian emerald, originally the size of an apple, had been hollowed out to accommodate a Swiss watch movement dated to around 1600, signed by G. Ferlite.
Enameled table cut garnet ring.
A watch set in a single large emerald of hexagonal shape, perhaps from the famous Muzo mine in Colombia. The loop is also set with small emeralds and with white enamel, and the face enameled green, circa 1600.
Selection of fashionable rings.
Originally the workers that found the hoard sold it to a man called “Stoney Jack”. All would have been lost if it had not been for one antiquities trader and pawnbroker, George Fabian Lawrence. Mr. Lawrence had a deal with many of the workers where he would offer them cash for interesting finds during their work. Parcels of the Cheapside Hoard began showing up at his office and he eventually amassed quite a collection. The Guildhall Museum hired Lawrence to acquire as many pieces of the hoard as possible. He became Inspector of Excavations for the nascent London Museum in 1911. Lewis Vernon Harcourt, 1st Viscount Harcourt, provided the funds for the London Museum to purchase most of the pieces of the Cheapside Hoard. A few went to the British Museum, the Guildhall Museum and one enameled chain went to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
An enameled gold salamander hat ornament/brooch with Colombian emeralds and table cut diamonds.
Gold bow pendant set with rose-cut and step cut foil backed rubies and table-cut diamonds. This style of pendant was called a “flower” in Elizabethan times and was often attached by a ribbon to the left breast. Pendants also adorned the hair and the neckline.
Carved emerald parrot.
This agate cameo is likely a representation of Cleopatra (69–30 BC), the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt. Curators believe it is the oldest item in the Cheapside Hoard. How this 2,000 year-old piece made so far away ended up in 17th-century Britain raises some interesting questions.
A gold pendant cross set with pink sapphires bordered by irregular rose-cut diamonds.
A selection of enameled and bejeweled long chains which were extremely popular during the the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. The Cheapside Hoard contains over thirty necklaces of various lengths, designs and color combinations. Most consist of delicate knot, star, scroll, foliate or floral motifs. The designs may be repeated but each chain is unique in its color and gem scheme. Some things never go out of style right? These popular chains were often depicted in portraits from the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.
The entire hoard was displayed together for the first time in more than 100 years at the Museum of London, from October 2013 to April 27, 2014. If you happen to be in London in the next week, run don’t walk to the exhibit!