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Silver mounted serpentine canister

Silver mounted serpentine canister
Silver mounted serpentine canister - Image 1Silver mounted serpentine canister - Image 2


European ca 1690 serpentine canister with fire gilt silver screw top lid.These canisters in their time were higly valued luxury items, used to keep saffron, cumin, tea, During the Middle Ages spices – nutmeg, cloves, pepper and cinnamon – were very expensive.
Spices were transported overland from Asia to Constantinople and from there bought by Venetian
merchants and sold in Europe. This all changed once the Portuguese found a sea route to the
East; but it was the Dutch who later dominated the spice trade in Europe through the VOC
(1602-1795) – the first, and one of the world’s most successful multinational companies even in
today’s terms.
The VOC’s retourschepen had to keep to a very strict schedule: leave Batavia before the end of
December to arrive in the Netherlands by late summer or early autumn before the winter weather
made it too difficult to distribute the goods. That left the merchants with between two and four
months to off-load, clean, repair and re-equip the ships for the next voyage to Batavia.
A staggering number of ships rounded the Cape during these annual round-trips: between 1650
and 1660 about 205 VOC ships passed the Cape, or an estimated 53,000 sailors, soldiers and
passengers; between 1720 and 1730 the total number of ships had increased to 701. By 1720 the
VOC had also increased the size of these long-distance ships by 125%. The number are
staggering considering that in 1679 – the year Simon van der Stel became the governor of the
Cape – the total population of the Cape maritime station was barely 500.
During the VOC’s Gold Age (1630-1670) the company’s profit margin was estimated at around
18%. This fell to about 10% between 1680 and 1720 as it started to face increased competition
from other trading companies from Europe. The company was eventually disbanded in 1795.
Different trading activities
The VOC retourschepen’s cargo consisted mostly of pepper (70%), followed by other spices
(cloves, nutmeg, mace, cinnamon) and private orders. Nutmeg in particular was extremely valuable
and relatively rare because at the time it could only be sourced from the Banda Islands. Merchants
made enormous profits selling nutmeg. In the late 17th century 4.5kg of nutmeg could be bought
off a trader on one of the Banda Islands for a few English pennies and sold in London with a markup
of 60,000%.
Secondary trading activities were also conducted in the east, with VOC ships trading goods
between Persia, India, Indonesia, China and Japan. They bought Japanese silver and copper, gold
and porcelain from the Chinese; traded in sugar, tea, coffee, pewter, rice and wood; bought
Persian and Chinese silk and carpets; printed cloth from India, horses from Arabia, and even
shipped elephants between Ceylon and India. Small quantities of opium were also bought and
sold. Sometimes sugar or Japanese copper were used as ballast in the ships, or saltpetre (used to
make gunpowder), also logs of exotic timber.
In 1665 Pieter de Bitter, a VOC officer returning to the Netherlands with a fleet of eleven ships,
kept an inventory of the cargo. The inventory included 200,000 carpets, numerous bales of
material and items of clothing, more than 100t each of nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, pepper and
large quantities of ebony, Chinese silk, uncut diamonds, rubies, pearls and porcelain.
In aristocratic circles or amongst the rich merchants valuable spices were kept in silver or serpentine and silver canisters or containers.

The octagonal canister of course is carved out of one piece os serpentin / the name comes from the stones resemblance to the colour of certain snakes…/

The unmarked silver screww top and handle is typical of the second half of the seventeenth century.German or Flemish ca 1680

Height : 15 cm

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