The Proctor basin

On display

The ewer and basin was one of the great show-pieces of sixteenth century plate and an essential part of the dining service. Before the adoption of the dinner fork, which in England was not until the end of the seventeenth century, the ewer and basin were needed to rinse diner's fingers. This process became a carefully choreographed ceremony, with basins held by attendants and others pouring scented water over the hands of the guests. The Proctor ewer is one of only six surviving matched sets before 1600 and one of the smaller Tudor examples. The form of the set, particularly the vase-shape ewer was standard for this period and the flat-chased decoration represents a vernacular style current in London workshops in the 1590s and 1600s, apparently associated with prosperous rather than aristocratic patrons. The fine enamelled coat of arms at the centre of the basin, however, is a distinctive signature of wealth. This ewer and basin, together with the bell salt (WA2005.132) were part of an important silver collection formed by Sir Ernest Cassel (1852-1921). Cassel was a German immigrant who reportedly arrived in England at the age of 17 with no more than a bag of clothes and a violin. Within fifteen years he was one of the most prominent financiers in Europe, contributing hugely to Britain's prosperity prior to the First World War. He was made private financial advisor and treasurer to King Edward VII in 1902.

Information derived from T. Schroder, British and Continental Gold and Silver in the Ashmolean (2009)


  • Title

    The Proctor basin

  • Associated place

    London (place of creation)
  • Date

    1592 - 1593
  • Material and technique

    silver-gilt and enamel

  • Object type

  • Dimensions

    41.7 cm (diameter)
    2227 g with ewer (weight)
  • No. of items


  • Credit line

    Purchased (France Fund) with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, Mrs Diane Bacon and Mrs Helen Smyth in memory of their grandfather, A.H. Whiteley, the Friends of the Ashmolean, Mr and Mrs Brian Wilson, Mr and Mrs Michael Pix, the Lady Heseltine, and other donations, 2005.

  • Museum location

    Second floor | Gallery 55 | Silver
  • Museum department

    Western Art

  • Accession no.


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Further reading

Schroder, Timothy, British and Continental Gold and Silver in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2009), 212

Reference URL

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