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Guest writer’s articles: “An exercise in dating a pewter pass cup.” – by Jerry Berg

Member and Past President of the “Carolina Steiners”, and SCI.

Editor’s Note This is a very interesting article it touches on a small collectible sub-set of drinking vessels; “The Pass Cup”, It has a lot of boxing history, pewter info, its engraving and how to use chalk to enhance a photo. It was originally published  in “Prosit”, the SCI magazine in March 2007, and then this slightly modified version in my Pewter Collector’s Newsletter #11, 2-4, 2007.


When I purchased the commemorative cup shown, it was the subject matter that caught my attention.  It’s not very often that you see a Commemorative Cup that pays homage to Bare-knuckle Boxing, and that piqued my curiosity and interest.  After purchasing the piece, and after doing some research on the subject matter depicted in the engraved scenes, I was then faced learning about the cup itself, i.e., age, country of origin, etc.

The first thing anyone (or at least that I) would do when purchasing an engraved piece, is to read the inscription and, if dated, assume that as starting point.  In this case, the cup shows images on both sides of boxers squared off in the classic erect stance associated with the earlier days of the sport. The boxers shown on one side are identified as “Daniel Donnelly” and “Jem Belcher,” and on the other side “Tom Moulineaux, the Negro” along with “Daniel Donnelly.” Accompanying the images are dated inscriptions of, “April 8th, 1807” and, December 10th, 1810.

Therefore, with the years 1807 & 1810 in mind, I started researching the style of the cup.

The cup has two handles and appears to be made out of Britannia Metal, with the so-called “broken handle” (AKA the “double c” or “double scroll”) style handles.  Consulting my reference books, I determined that that type of handle was primarily in vogue during the period of 1750  through 1830, although pieces with that type handle are still being manufactured today.

The patina on the piece is dark and is what you would expect to be on a piece manufactured during the late 18th or early 19th century. While the cup could have been made prior to the boxing matches and inscribed later, it is more likely that the cup was manufactured and inscribed some time after the bouts.

My research showed that the combatants were well respected in the boxing world, therefore this piece was created during a time-period when the two opposing bare-knuckle boxers’ names would still have been widely recognized as truly world-class competition.  Using this information, it would seem logical to assume that the cup dates from sometime between 1811 ,shortly after the second fight listed, and IN 1836 ,allowing a 25 year span when the defeated boxers would still be highly regarded and well known adversaries.

At this point, I decided to consult with my friend, and Master Steinologist, Stephen Smith. After examining photos of the piece, Steve stated that it was probably made in Sheffield, England. He also immediately noticed that the cup was made by using the “spinning” manufacturing technique. This method dates the piece as post 1825. Also, after examining reference books, Steve found in “Pewter Wares from Sheffield” (by Jack L Scott) examples of this type of mug dating from 1824. Steve subsequently let me examine the book and a pint tankard with this exact handle, and a very similar looking base attachment, was also shown in the book. He also pointed out that the use of Britannia Metal indicates its earliest possible age. Britannia Metal is a variation of pewter which uses a lower percentage of tin (approximately 92% tin, 6% antimony and 2% copper), to attain a harder composition than typical pewter. Although different countries use different names for this hard form of pewter, they all generally began using this material in producing tankards and mugs at approximately the same time, roughly 1770-1800. So by using similar reasoning that the cup would have been manufactured and inscribed within 25-30 years of the second bout, he came up with a time span of 1825-1840, and then split the range with an estimated date of 1832 (+/-).

So my estimate dated the piece between 1811 and 1836, and Steve estimated between 1825 and 1840. Gee, I felt so smart. (Although, I must admit that Steve’s estimate was based on much more sound, scientific principles.)

For normal people, this would probably have been sufficient – but I still had a couple of issues.


The inscription on the Cup for Tom Molineaux refers to him as “The Negro.” It is my impression that throughout English speaking Europe, “Tom Molineaux ‘The Moor,’” would be the description more likely used. I felt that the term “The Negro” was out of place. Also, the date format on the cup uses the month first, and next the date, followed by the year (April 8th, 1807). It is my observation that Great Britain uses a format showing the date first, with the month second, followed by the year (8 April, 1807).

Feeling a degree of doubt, due these two elements within the inscription, I decided to request some insight from across the pond. An exchange of emails with SCI member Chris Wheeler of the U.K. followed. He found an article online at which discussed the various date and time formats favored. It turns out that the currently favored format in Great Britain (d/m/y) has only been in widespread use for the last hundred years, or so. Prior to that, the preferred format was (m/d/y), the same format currently preferred in the United States, and also the same format shown on the cup. So, mystery solved – there is no problem with the date format, on the cup, being used in Great Britain during the era indicated!

The use of the term, “Negro” proved to be a little harder to explain.  Again Chris, with the help of Wikipedia, came to the rescue.  To the European commoner, a “Moor” could have been an African, or a dark skinned individual from any number of countries.  However, the term “Negro” was often used when referring to an African who came to Europe by way of America.  Therefore, it is logical to assume that the commonly used “Moor” could be replaced by “Negro” when referring to a freed American slave living in Europe.

So, my qualms now appeased, I have no problems accepting the Commemorative Cup as collectible from the early to mid 19th century.

All in all, however, it is a nice piece and I’m very happy with my purchase.  I could say that, “I’m pleased as punch” but that would be far too easy.

“British Pewter & Britannia metal for pleasure and investing” by Christopher A Peal
“Pewter Wares From Sheffield” by Jack L. Scott
Conversations and email exchanges with M.S. Stephen Smith of Virginia
Email exchanges with Chris Wheeler of the U.K.
www.Wikipedia.Org – the free online encyclopedia

[END – SOK ]



    “A woman recently asked me  asked me recently: “What would I rather give up, food or sex?”  

I said: “Neither. I’m not falling for that one again wife!”






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