January 22, 2015

A Remarkable Discovery

There’s ‘rare’ and then there’s ‘supremely rare’. These bottles illustrated here belong to the ‘Supremely Rare’ catagory, particularly the smaller engraved one.  

Brought in to Moorabool by a local, they were family pieces, handed down through several generations with origins in Holland, and the Dutch East Indies Company. 

These wine bottles are of typical mid-17th century form, although in a vivid emerald green colour rather than the more often-seen deep black/green. My assessment was: nice early pieces, a few thousand dollars worth. But something was nagging the back of my mind; looking back through some photos taken at the Victoria & Albert Museum ( late last century!) I realised why the engraving was familiar; I had admired & photographed one there. 

Theirs was signed & dated, and sure enough, this example bears a tiny engraved signature, “WillemVan Heemskerk” and the date - 26th February 1677!

Willem Jacobz. van Heemskerk (Leiden, 1616-93) was actually a cloth merchant, but in his spare time he practiced the art of caligraphy - using diamond-point engraving on glass vessels. His verses are described by the authorities as ‘pithy’ - often biblical, or drinking toasts, often with a touch of humour. "The lamp of life is but a vapor” reads one, while others appeal to the mercantile Dutch sensibilities: "Eat silently", i.e. keep quiet when making gain, and "He who brags about his success, often loses his gains” , both quotes from a Statesman of the time, Jacob Cats (1577-1660).

The bottle we have is a very charismatic piece, and needs to be handled to truly appreciate the beautiful (as yet un-translated) script. However, it has now been locked away in a very safe place, as I will explain:

The real shock came when I looked up auction prices…. they head into the 6-figure range!

Our example is comparable to this one, sold at Christies in 2013:

It seems there are only around 80 of these beautiful pieces known, and they are considered to be the most desirable of their kind. The Rijksmuseum has 25 of his works, while the Museum Boijmans in Rotterdam has 8; the Getty has 1, the V&A has one, and our own National Gallery of Victoria here in Melbourne has a clear glass goblet by him, purchased in 1989.  

Moorabool is very excited to be able to offer this rarity, along with its simpler un-engraved relative, in our 2015 ‘Recent Acquisitions’ Exhibition.   

The best way to enjoy it is to have a look at the video I have posted on YouTube.