The Marlborough ice pails


British Museum

British Museum

Ice pails, containing one bottle of wine, were intended to be placed on the table: larger cisterns and coolers would have stood on the floor. The use of ice pails became fashionable at the French court from the 1680s, and were thereafter used by nobility and wealthy aristocracy throughout Europe. These ice pails are the only surviving English examples made of pure gold, and weigh in total a remarkable 365 ozs 6 dwts Troy. Although unmarked, the Huguenot influence is unmistakable and can be seen in the large, heavy form, lion masks and ringed handles. Combined with spiral gadrooned decoration, an English late seventeenth century decorative tradition, the style indicates a date of manufacture in London around 1700.The ice pails were bequeathed in 1744 by Sarah, 1st Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744) to her grandson and heir, the Honourable John Spencer (1708-1746). The Duchess was a favourite of Queen Anne (reigned 1702-14); her husband John Churchill (1650-1722), ancestor of Sir Winston Churchill, was one of England's greatest military leaders. Together they were extremely influential at the English court in the first years of the eighteenth century, and acquired great fortunes.The Duchess' will referred to '2 large gold flagons', which passed to the Honourable John Spencer, who founded the present line of Earls Spencer. The ice pails remained in the Spencer family at Althorp, Northamptonshire, until their acquisition by the Museum in 1981.

Show lessRead more


  • Title: The Marlborough ice pails
  • Date Created: 1700/1700
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 267.00mm; Diameter: 218.00mm (rim); Diameter: 200.00mm (base); Weight: 5.75kg
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: incised; pounced; moulded; chased
  • Subject: mammal
  • Registration number: 1981,1201.1
  • Production place: Made in England
  • Material: gold
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Purchased through S J Phillips Ltd. Purchased from Spencer, Edward John. With contribution from National Heritage Memorial Fund. With contribution from Art Fund. With contribution from Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. With contribution from Pilgrim Trust. With contribution from Goodhart-Kitchingman, Katherine. Previous owner/ex-collection Spencer, John. Previous owner/ex-collection Churchill, Sarah