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The Paul Crespin rococo épergne sold to London dealers S.J. Phillips for £570,000 plus premium at Sotheby’s on May 27.

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Back in the 18th century (for those who could afford it) dinner was a lengthy occasion accompanied by an extravagant number of courses. And at a time when manpower for setting a table and polishing the silverware was not at a premium, dining accoutrements matched the meals for richness, variety and grandeur.

One of the most extravagant and impressive pieces of dining plate for the well-set table was a silver épergne or surtout du table. With its combination of baskets and serving dishes, it allowed for a wide variety of sweet and savoury dishes from more than one course to be set out for all to see.

The example pictured here, which featured in Sotheby's May 27 silver and vertu sale at Bond Street, was made by the celebrated London-based Huguenot goldsmith Paul Crespin in 1748/49.

It thus belongs to the second phase of stylistic development when a central soup tureen, cruets and casters were replaced by a central basket, candle branches and various-sized dishes that could be interchanged throughout the meal according to the courses and the desired ambience.

The impressively sized épergne, measuring 2ft 4in (72cm) in length, weighing 254oz and bearing the Dysart arms, was made for Sir Lionel Tollemache, 5th Baronet and 4th Earl of Dysart for Ham House, Richmond. When the 4th Earl inherited Ham, it was in a poor state of repair and Ham's account books show that he undertook extensive refurbishments during the 1740s and 50s. The Earl's accounts also reveal that he spent extensively on acquiring household and dining silver through the 1720s and '30s.

The well educated Earl, who had undertaken the Grand Tour in 1729, appeared to favour the latest in fashionable taste, purchasing, for example, a pair of figural candlesticks made by the Royal Parisian goldsmith Thomas Germaine in 1732/4 that anticipated English taste with their fashionable rococo design.

He commissioned works from the likes of David Willaume and Anne Tanqueray in the 1720s, but Crespin had become the Earl's favoured goldsmith by the 1730s, supplying him with scallop shell dishes, a chocolate pot, serving dishes and this épergne. Ham House is now owned by the National Trust but this piece, like much of the other family silver, left the house before the Trust took over in 1917.

It was sold by auction at T. Trevor and Sons in 1955 for £2900 to Asprey, from whom it was purchased by the father of the vendor who offered it at Sotheby's last month.

Estimated to fetch £150,000-250,000, it made the top price of the 205-lot sale when it was sold to London dealers S.J. Phillips for £570,000 (plus 20/12% per cent premium).