Full Cheapside Hoard goes on display for first time

The Cheapside Hoard is an unprecedented collection of jewelry from the late 16th and early 17th century discovered in 1912 by workers demolishing the Wakefield House in Cheapside, London, near St. Paul’s Cathedral. They drove a pickaxe into the cellar floor and hit a decayed wooden box that had been hidden there centuries earlier before the Great London Fire of 1666. Inside the box were trays of jewelry, nearly 500 pieces made of gold, enamel and gemstones from all over the world. The workmen helped themselves to the jewels, wrapping them in handkerchiefs and stuffing them into their pockets, boots and caps so they could sell the treasures to a man known in the neighborhood as Stoney Jack.

Stoney Jack was a familiar figure to construction workers in the area; he liked to hang out at demolition sites to snap up anything of interest that might be found. Fortunately for future generations, Stoney Jack wasn’t just some back alley fence. His real name was G.F. Lawrence. He owned an antiques store in Wandsworth and most importantly, he was head of acquisitions for the brand new London Museum which fortuitously opened the same year the Cheapside Hoard was discovered. Lord Harcourt, a founder of the London Museum, told Lawrence to seek out all the workers who had recovered hoard and buy whatever they were selling.

And that is how the upstart baby Museum of London acquired the most important collection of Elizabethan and Jacobean jewelry ever found, while the venerable British Museum had to make do with a gift of a few pieces and the prestigious Victoria & Albert was stuck with just a single gold and enamel chain. Now for the first time, the entire Cheapside Hoard will go on display at the Museum of London. The Cheapside Hoard: London’s Lost Jewels will run from October 11th, 2013, through April 27th, 2014, giving visitors a chance to see something that hasn’t been seen since 1912.

It’s an exceptional sight to behold. The collection is heavy on the gemstones courtesy of the global range of mercantilism. There are emeralds from Colombia and Brazil, Brazilian amazonite, spinel, iolites and chrysoberyl from Sri Lanka, Indian rubies and diamonds, Persian turquoise, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, Red Sea peridot, opals, garnets and amethysts from Bohemia and Hungary and pearls from Bahrain. There are spectacular individual pieces like a pocket watch set into a single Colombian emerald which before it was carved was the size of an apple, a 1,300-year-old Byzantine cameo carved out of amethyst, a gold, diamond and emerald hat pin in the shape of a salamander, a three-layer sardonyx cameo of Queen Elizabeth, an emerald parrot, incredibly delicate emerald and amethyst grape bunches hanging from gold and enamel branches.

Many of the gemstones are cabochons, but there are also some more elaborate faceted cuts like rose-cut and star-cut which were first seen in Europe adorning France’s Cardinal Mazarin in the 1640s. Either those gems were cut just before they were buried, or rose and star cuts were being made or at least sold in England before they made their debut in France. Recent research done by Museum of London curator Hazel Forsyth has helped narrow down the burial date. One of the objects in the hoard is a small, chipped red seal stone intaglio. Carved on its face is the coat of arms of William Howard, the first and only Viscount Stafford. He was created Viscount Stafford in November of 1640, therefore the hoard had to have been buried after November 1640 but before September 1666.

Scholars believe the hoard was the stock of a jeweler or a group of jewelers who hid it for later retrieval. In the 17th century, Cheapside was known for its jewelry shops.

“This collection has been misunderstood and misinterpreted, dismissed as jewellery for the merchant classes,” Forsyth said. “But at this date the merchants were among the wealthiest people in the land; they had far more disposable wealth than the aristocracy.”

In trying to find out who buried the treasure, when and why, she has solved some mysteries and may have uncovered a murder. Among the huge rubies, pearls the size of acorns, emeralds and sapphires, there were some faked stones made of quartz crystal carved and dyed to resemble precious gems. Forsyth believes these may have been the work of a jeweller called Thomas Simpson, known as a skilled but sharp operator. She also believes he may have been implicated in the murder of another jeweller, who was poisoned and thrown overboard on a voyage back from the orient, and that some of the gems the unfortunate victim was bringing back to London may have ended up in the hoard.

Nothing like a touch of murder to lubricate the international gem trade.

You can see more pictures of the Cheapside Hoard in this photo gallery, but none of them really do it justice. These beauties really need in-person viewing.

17 thoughts on “Full Cheapside Hoard goes on display for first time

  1. Usually people bury treasures if (a) the enemy is standing ‘ante portas’ or (b) their own ruler plans to collect his share. It is furthermore not unheard of that means are ‘pooled’. Moreofer, in times of crisis and investment banks not at hand, (faked) jewelry might have come in handy. It seems to have indeed been buried 1640 – 1666. Tax evasion and the civil war (in its early phase) might have played a certain role here (ca. 1643). What has happened to that Simpson ?

  2. Interesting that the moon (1-29) dial on the watch has what looks to be a yin-yang symbol. I wonder what that first turns up in European imagery.

  3. Wow! Another great post. I’ve been following your blog for a while now and I love what you’re doing with it. I can only imagine the time and effort you need to take to bring it to us. Thank you!

  4. Thank you soooo very much for this information. I love the historical aspect of jewelry and these pieces are most incredible. I will treasure this data and use it in further research and evalutations.

  5. The truth is revealed in an upcoming book release titled ‘Shakespeare Exhumed: The Bassano Chronicles’ ISBN 9780987365255. The book is currently being printed and will reach bookshelves for the release 1 August 2013.

    The jewels were owned by Antonio de Bassan (Antonio Bassano) in 1574, a rich Judean merchant and musician of Queen Elizabeth I. Amidst the mayhem and murder, these jewels were stolen from his family in the late 16th century. This book reveals all the details that the Museum of London did not want you to see.

  6. I did not use the word ‘deliberately’ concealed but asserted ‘did not want you to see’, which is entirely different.

  7. The details of the owner of the hoard were supplied here free of charge. It has never been about selling a book, otherwise this information would not have been supplied herein free of charge. It has always been about setting the record straight. In fact, I make no profit from the book, so you are mistaken in your assumption.

    Further, one cannot share 386 pages of information in such a forum, which is why the book has been printed – for those interested in more information with a myriad of citations to evidence the author’s findings. I suggest you don’t buy a copy – instead stay naive and ill-informed.

    1. I asked you one simple question and you declined to reply, insisting instead that I have to read the book to have that one question answered. At no point did I ask for 386 pages of information or anything even remotely onerous. You made the extraordinary claim that the Museum of London does not want people to know “the truth” but you refuse categorically to explain what possible motivation they might have for deceiving the public. Perhaps you should refrain from slandering people and institutions if you aren’t prepared to explain yourself when questioned.

  8. If you consulted the meaning of ‘slander’ before making such assertions, you would know that written assertions that are ‘false’ are classified as libel. Slander is ‘false’ verbal comments. Neither of which I made.

    You are clearly a troll to which I will not waste any more of my time feeding!

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