Thursday, October 23, 2008

Stolen Silver

The best feature in Appolo magazine is always printed on the last page, From the Apollo Archives. There, something interesting from some remote back-issue is reprinted. The October 2008 issue excerpts A Love Affair With Silver written in 1974 by Mary Henderson:

Harold Beresford Hope was a member of the British Diplomatic Service who, just before the first World War, served in the British Embassy in Berlin. There he fell deeply in love with a Polish lady and she with him. One day, however, he went to the Palais de Danse with another friend and was confronted by the distraught Polish lady, who drew a revolver out of her purse and shot herself in front of him. Beresford Hope was then transferred to Athens, where in 1917 he died of typhoid fever. (It is believed that he threw himself out of a window while in a state of delirium, the doctors having failed to diagnose the disease.) When his will was read it was found that, in memory of his love for the Polish lady, Beresford Hope had bequeathed his valuable collection of silver to a British Legation in Poland if such a mission should be established there in an independent Poland within five years of his death.

The Polish Republic was proclaimed in Warsaw in November 1918 and ten months later a British Legation was opened there. The Beresford Hope silver, numbering 176 pieces, was moved from Coutts Bank in 1921. It travelled by cruiser to Gdynia and from there to Warsaw (under Naval guard) on a Polish train in a special British carriage.

Not long after its arrival an attempt was made to break through the steel bars in the strong room, but the thieves fled and, although a team of Embassy officials and armed naval ratings awaited their return the next day, they did not reappear. The collection then remained safely in the Embassy until the evacuation of the staff in September 1939, when the heavy silver chests were left behind in the safe.

When the Hon. Robin Hankey returned to Warsaw as Charge d'Affaires in 1945, he immediately went to the strong room and operated the combination he had set in 1939; the Chubb lock functioned perfectly, but the room was empty. Thieves had bored a hole in the brick side wall. Permission was later granted by the Mayor of Warsaw to dig among the ruins of the Embassy, but only one mustard spoon was found.

In May 1946 the Greek-born wife of the Head of Chancery, Mrs. John Russell, was wandering in the ruins of the old city when she came to a yard selling scrap iron and junk. On a pile of rusty old iron bedsteads she spotted a domed object. On closer examination she found it was a dish-cover with the coat of arms and cypher of George V. Further search revealed a total of thirteen such dish-covers; one was being used as a hand basin by the scrap dealer, who was loathe to part with it until Mrs. Russell purchased him an enamel one in exchange. Although Mrs. Russell did not know about the Beresford Hope silver, when she brought back her prize to clean it – having paid a total of 5,000 zlts, which at the time was worth just under 3 pounds – it aroused great excitement at the Embassy, where, of course, it was quickly identified.

Sad to say, Apollo provided no photographs of the Beresford Hope dish covers (nor of the mustard spoon). Are they still at the Embassy? Has anybody figured out what use to make of them? The George V covered serving piece shown here is the best approximation turned up by a quick picture search – from a 2006 sale at Woodwards Auction Rooms in Cork. That obtrusive sticker (the lot number) looks a little hazardous for the finish, but of course it represents nothing like the perils of the Warsaw scrap heap where Mary Henderson's "domed objects" turned up.