Castle Tops by Madden Cole

COLLECTABLES CASTLE-TOP WARES were the souvenirs of the day when railways were introduced in the UK, encouraging people to take excursions to beauty spots where engraved or repousse-topped silver boxes were on sale. Castle-top boxes were so named because famous castles, stately homes, cathedrals or monuments were depicted on their lids. Castle tops were attached to card cases, snuff and tobacco boxes, vinaigrettes, desk blotters and, later, cigarette cases. Jeremy Astfalck of the Old Corkscrew in Franschhoek says that as they were of silver and often handmade, they were expensive, mainly targeting the wealthier traveller. They were either bought on the spot or commissioned by the gentry, who presented them to guests as mementos. The earliest ones appeared in about 1830. Often they were commissioned specially for hunting parties. According to Ian Pickford’s Antique Silver, early castle-top visiting card cases have scenes on both sides in simple oblongs. One example, by Nathaniel Mills of Birmingham, 1838, has Windsor Castle on the one side and Kenilworth on the other. However, in the 1840s mainly one scene was depicted, but with foliate scroll decoration following of the outline of the building portrayed. Castle tops were produced until the 1930s. As with card cases, pictorial vinaigrettes are much sought after. Although also known as castle tops, Pickford says only a few actually depict castles. Castle top wares are divided into two groups — repousse and engraved. Repousse tops are more pricey. However, the rarity and popularity of scenes play a role in determining the value of a castle top piece. The vinaigrettes made by great silversmiths such as Mills and Sampson Mordan of London always command premium prices. Mills is especially known for his castle tops, Pickford says. Re-engraved tops are risky: always check the case for signs that a scene has been removed. “With repousse tops always ensure that the top is original,” warns Pickford. In A Guide to Collecting Silver, Elizabeth de Castres says vinaigrettes with a historical building embossed or struck on the lid have become “greatly sought after”. These were made in the 1830s. Mills turned out many that depicted buildings like Windsor Castle, St Paul’s Cathedral, Warwick Castle and Crystal Palace. The repousse and engravings were often done by mechanical means. Astfalck tags an 1831 Birmingham vinaigrette depicting the Scott memorial in Edinburgh at R22000; an 1851 card case by Nathaniel Mills with a view of Abbotsford House at R39000 and an 1839 cigar case by Mills, depicting Windsor Castle, at R23000. Judith Miller, in the Antiques Price Guide 2003, prices an 1844 Birmingham silver visiting card case depicting the houses of parliament at £1700 to £2000; an 1852 silver visiting card case by David Petiffer of Birmingham at £800 to £1000 and an 1880 US silver visiting card case showing Battle Abbey, the reverse side embossed with a floral pattern, at £350 to £400.
Madden Cole