The Naseby Cup, London, 1839. Designed by Charles Reily and George Storer. Silver and gold, 26 3/8 × 14 3/8 × 7 5/8 in. (67 × 36.5 × 19.4 cm). Yale University Art Gallery, Transfer from the Yale University Library, Numismatic Collection, 2001, Gift of Eric Streiner, 2001.87.56180. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

The Naseby Cup: A Numismatic and Historical Treasure at Yale

Benjamin D. R. Hellings

As custodian and curator of the Yale University Art Gallery’s numismatic collection, I have the responsibility to oversee approximately 200,000 objects: coins, medals, tokens, bank notes, and other related works. The Gallery’s is the largest numismatic collection at any university in the country, and it includes countless rarities and masterpieces. Yet one particular work stands out. Produced in 1839, the Naseby Cup is one of the most exceptional numismatic objects in the world. Its unique blend of numismatic and decorative arts, together with its compelling history, is the subject of The Naseby Cup: Coins and Medals of the English Civil War.

I have long been interested—perhaps obsessively so—in the Naseby Cup not only because it has no parallel in any other collection but also because of its fascinating history. Standing over two feet tall and featuring 72 coins, medals, badges, and counters from the English Civil War period (1642–51)—some of which are themselves extremely rare—the cup is an extraordinary example of craftsmanship and provides a unique opportunity to study the historical events of that time through its numismatic pieces. How did coins from the mid-seventeenth century end up on a Victorian-era ornamental silverwork some 200 years after they were struck and used?

Interior of the Naseby Cup. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Charles Reily and George Storer, two of the best silversmiths of the first half of the nineteenth century, were commissioned to produce the cup by John and Mary Frances Fitzgerald. It commemorates the Battle of Naseby on June 14, 1645, during which the forces of the English Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell and Sir Thomas Fairfax, defeated the Royalist army of King Charles I. Although silver trophy works were in vogue at the time, none showcase as many numismatic objects as the Naseby Cup, and Reily and Storer took a unique and innovative approach to integrating them. They made a hole in the cup for every numismatic object. Each object was heated and shaped to fit the contour of the cup before being inserted into a bezel-like frame that gave the silversmiths a good grip for soldering. The object, placed in its frame, was then inserted into its hole. This painstaking process resulted in a spectacular work that allows one to see both sides of every numismatic object—one on the cup’s interior and one on its exterior—while also ensuring that the coins did not protrude from the cup’s contour.

Crown of Charles I (obverse), Tower Mint, 1630–31. Gold; embedded in the Naseby Cup. Yale University Art Gallery, Transfer from the Yale University Library, Numismatic Collection, 2001, Gift of Eric Streiner, 2001.87.56180. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

John and Mary Frances Fitzgerald owned a manor located on the Naseby battlefield, and their son, Edward Fitzgerald, was a highly significant investigator of the field. He spent well over a decade researching the battle and conducted amateur excavations. While his findings were largely ignored early on, they offer critical insight today. Some of the coins on the cup were purportedly dug up from the battlefield, adding historical interest to the work. Others, however, may have been added in a display of the Fitzgeralds’ wealth or their knowledge of the events. The book offers numismatic, historical, and artistic details about each of the 72 objects in an in-depth catalogue. One entry explains, for example, how and why a New England shilling from Boston was included and the connection between the Massachusetts Bay Colony and England during this period. Another chapter is dedicated to an overview of the English Civil War, to familiarize readers with the key figures of the time, such as Charles I and Cromwell, who appear on many of the cup’s coins and medals.

In addition to being the inaugural release in the Gallery’s new series, Yale Collections, which shares new research on objects from the museum, The Naseby Cup is the first book on a numismatic subject published by the Gallery. My intention in researching and writing the book was to offer insight into the wonderfully minutiae-rich world of numismatics in a way that reflects the interconnectedness of the field with art and history—all through the lens of a single object. The Naseby Cup offers readers a technical introduction to coins and medals and a thorough account of the historical events, facilitating their full appreciation of this magnificent work of art. Visitors to the Gallery can now see the cup in the newly redesigned space for numismatics, where it will remain on view as a treasured highlight of the museum’s collection.

Installation view of the Bela Lyon Pratt Gallery of Numismatics, Yale University Art Gallery. Photo: Courtesy Yale University Art Gallery

Benjamin D. R. Hellings is the Jackson-Tomasko Associate Curator of Numismatics at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Join the Yale University Art Gallery on May 16 from 5:30-6:30pm to celebrate the release of the book The Naseby Cup: Coins and Medals of the English Civil War.

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