Silver tankard gifted by 19th century actor unearthed at auction

A 140-year-old silver tankard gifted by a famous Glasgow stage actor to an unknown friend has been unearthed by an antique dealer.

The tankard was gifted by Barry Sullivan.

The item, which is up for sale for £3,950, is inscribed from Barry Sullivan, a well-known actor of the mid-1800s who was known to have acted in Shakespearian plays and was also a theatre manager, to a friend, Dan Fred Spiller.

The Scottish sterling silver-lidded tankard by Glasgow silversmith George Edward & Sons displays images believed to be of Sullivan in various roles.It has seven such “vignette panels” around the outside, while it is topped with a statue of a man in Shakespearian garb, which could be Sullivan himself.

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Colin Stoddart of Dart Silver antique specialists in Falkirk, came across the tankard at an auction in Edinburgh. It is described as being in “first class condition” and comes complete with its original case.

He said: “For people who are interested in the background of the theatre connections, the engraving on the item and the story behind it will be more interesting than the tankard itself. It is an unusual piece and you don’t see things like this every day.”

The description attached to the listing of the item states: “A very fine excellent quality Scottish sterling silver lidded tankard… Barry Sullivan was a well-known actor of this period who was known to have acted in Shakespearian plays, we believe the images on the tankard may be scenes from some of his acting roles.”

Born in England to Irish parents in 1821, Sullivan was set to become a lawyer, but was drawn to the stage after seeing a performance of Macbeth and joined a travelling theatre company, eventually ending up in Edinburgh and then Glasgow, where he was a regular performer at the City Theatre. He later spent two years managing a theatre in Aberdeen.

For the next 20 years, he remained in Scotland, but an international career took off after a successful first appearance at the Haymarket Theatre, London, as Hamlet, after which he performed in New York and later Australia.

When the memorial theatre at Stratford-on-Avon was opened, Sullivan was selected to perform there.

After a period of ill health, Sullivan died in May 1891 of influenza. He was buried in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin, where a statue of Sullivan as Hamlet by Sir Thomas Farrell marks his grave.

George Edwards and Sons was a Buchanan Street-based silversmith.

The item, which is up for sale for £3,950, is inscribed from Barry Sullivan, a well-known actor of the mid-1800s who was known to have acted in Shakespearian plays and was also a theatre manager, to a friend, Dan Fred Spiller.

The Scottish sterling silver-lidded tankard by Glasgow silversmith George Edward & Sons displays images believed to be of Sullivan in various roles.It has seven such “vignette panels” around the outside, while it is topped with a statue of a man in Shakespearian garb, which could be Sullivan himself.

Colin Stoddart of Dart Silver antique specialists in Falkirk, came across the tankard at an auction in Edinburgh. It is described as being in “first class condition” and comes complete with its original case.He said: “For people who are interested in the background of the theatre connections, the engraving on the item and the story behind it will be more interesting than the tankard itself. It is an unusual piece and you don’t see things like this every day.”

The description attached to the listing of the item states: “A very fine excellent quality Scottish sterling silver lidded tankard… Barry Sullivan was a well-known actor of this period who was known to have acted in Shakespearian plays, we believe the images on the tankard may be scenes from some of his acting roles.”

Born in England to Irish parents in 1821, Sullivan was set to become a lawyer, but was drawn to the stage after seeing a performance of Macbeth and joined a travelling theatre company, eventually ending up in Edinburgh and then Glasgow, where he was a regular performer at the City Theatre. He later spent two years managing a theatre in Aberdeen.

For the next 20 years, he remained in Scotland, but an international career took off after a successful first appearance at the Haymarket Theatre, London, as Hamlet, after which he performed in New York and later Australia.

When the memorial theatre at Stratford-on-Avon was opened, Sullivan was selected to perform there.

After a period of ill health, Sullivan died in May 1891 of influenza. He was buried in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin, where a statue of Sullivan as Hamlet by Sir Thomas Farrell marks his grave.

George Edwards and Sons was a Buchanan Street-based silversmith.