This fantastical nautilus shell cup is a truly global product. It was constructed in Elizabethan London, likely by an Antwerp silversmith, using a south-east Asian shell, engraved in China, mounted in precious silver- gilt fittings. Its stem and foot are shaped as Neptune riding a dolphin writhing in a sea filled with marine life, while a giant crayfish attempts to crawl inside the back of the shell bowl, making the object rather terrifying to pick up, let alone drink from.
Unknown Chinese shell-carver; unknown European silversmith, London, England, 1585
Nautilus shell, silver gilt
L.D. Cunliffe Bequest, 1937 (M/P.4-1938)