Ship captain’s cup turns out to be treasure

Mary Chilcott with the Tolson Cup. Picture: Chilcott Auctioneers

Mary Chilcott with the Tolson Cup. Picture: Chilcott Auctioneers - Credit: Archant

A recent house clearance by Honiton’s Chilcotts Auctioneers unearthed a cup which turned out to have a fascinating story behind it, as a tale of maritime history and heroism came to the fore.

It transpired the cup was awarded to Capt. Thomas Tolson Edwards of the British Steam Ship ‘Illyrian’, a huge ship that regularly transported people and goods from Britain to the United States in the late 1800s.

While commanding the SS Illyrian, Capt. Edwards had rescued the crew of US Clipper Isaac Webb after it got into trouble on a voyage across the Atlantic.

The Isaac Webb was one of the last sailing packets to cross from New York to Europe; when she was launched in 1851 the clipper was so large that the launch attracted a crowd 5,000 people.

The story goes that the Isaac Webb was due to be retired and set sail on its final journey under Capt. William Wallace Urquhart from Antwerp on October 2, 1880, bound for New York.


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The ship was abandoned at sea on October 25 but fortunately the captain and all 24 crew were rescued by the Illyrian, which landed safely at Boston on October 27.

The solid silver cup was presented to Capt. Edwards by The President of the United States, Rutherford Hayes.

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Auctioneer, Duncan Chilcott said: “It is a fine piece - when held upside down, the shape of the cup resembles a ship’s bell. It is also beautifully adorned with anchors, tridents and rope edging and is engraved with the citation, ‘for humanity displayed in the rescue of the crew of the American ship, ‘Isaac Webb’ at sea, October 25th 1880’.

“The house clearance, as is often the way, was a real mixed bag of quite ordinary and very interesting items. When I picked the cup up out of a box, I realised immediately it was going to be something very special.

“It just goes to show that there is genuine treasure still to be found!”

The cup is estimated at £200-300 and will be sold in Chilcotts December 11 auction. Find out more by visiting: https://chilcottsauctioneers.co.uk.

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