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Rare 17th century Lignum Vitae treen wassail bowl with silver rim engraved "His Most Gracious Majesty King William's Punch Bowl, the gift of the Duke of Cumberland, to Cap. John Bury, 1764"


Provenance: Oliver family, Vancouver

Exhibited: Canadian Craft Museum "Festive Treasures: Silver" Exhibition November 26-January 23, 1999 

Size: 6 ½” h x 10 ¼” diameter


Wassail bowls derive their name from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Waes-hael’ which means ‘Good health”. Typically made in the 16th to early 18th centuries, they contained mulled cider and were used in drinking ceremonies which became an important part of society especially after the Reformation. The expansion of Britain’s colonial power and trade brought the introduction in the 16th century of the strong Lignum Vitae wood, considered the heaviest and hardest in the world, allowing bowls to be turned in far greater size than with English woods. Bowls made from Lignum Vitae wood, whose name is Latin for “Good Life”, were expensive and very popular. Wassailing celebrations are still practiced today to ensure that good health and community relations are nurtured for the upcoming harvest and year ahead.

Considered the heaviest and hardest wood in the world, the dense Lignum Vitae or ironwood (also called guayacan or pokhout), is from the slow-growing genus Guaiacum. Indigenous to Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America, it is the national tree of the Bahamas and the purplish-blue flower is the Jamaican national flower. Latin for ‘wood of life”, the plant was often used to treat medical conditions such as arthritis, and the wood chip