Coconut Cups Return to Strawberry Hill
By Cas Bradbeer, Assistant Curator

We have now opened our display of Horace Walpole’s coconut cups, which have returned to the house for the first time since 1842. As described in 1842 sale catalogue, they are “handsomely engraved” with the insignia of the Earls of Orford and mounted in silver-gilt.

At some point between May 1791 and April 1792, they were crafted by the renowned makers of some of the finest coconut cups of this period—Thomas Phipps and Edward Robinson, best known for their exquisite silver wine labels. Before they came to Strawberry Hill in 1793, the cups were housed at Houghton Hall, perhaps having arrived there under the stewardship of Horace Walpole’s nephew, the 3rd Earl of Orford.

Strawberry Hill is no stranger to coconut cups. Another was here last year, for the Treasures from Faraway exhibition. This awe-inspiring 16th century vessel from the Schroder Collection was delightfully mounted in silver with a base of two legs and tail, as well as a head-shaped cover forming the shape of an owl. Walpole himself collected several other mounted and carved coconuts whose whereabouts are unknown to us, such as a silver-mounted coconut perfume bottle.

Such vessels were popular collectables since the medieval era, when coconut cups were thought to have healing properties, protecting the drinker from poison. By the Georgian period, there was a resurgent interest in coconuts because of their allure as products of the colonies, worthy of being mounted in gilded silver and collected as luxuries by the likes of Walpole. These cups epitomise Walpole’s attraction to the history of princely collections—his heraldry carved in coconuts, akin to the wonders of nature that were mounted with precious metals by the noble collectors that preceded him.

Thanks are in order for all who worked with us to return these cups to the house, from identifying them at auction last Summer to submitting funding applications and arranging the logistics of their display.

In particular, we thank the Strawberry Hill Collection Trust (SHCT) for acquiring these precious works of art, with the support of the Art Fund and the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. Strawberry Hill Collection Trust are currently fundraising for the SCHT Acquisitions Fund—please help us return lost treasures to Strawberry Hill for everyone to enjoy by donating to the new dedicated Fund. Your help means we can buy, at short notice, important works of fine and decorative art.

To arrange monetary and artefact donations, please contact the Curator, Silvia Davoli

Coconut Cup (1791-1792). Pair of coconuts carved and mounted in silver-gilt. Acquired as a pair in 2024, with the support of the Art Fund and the ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.