Anstruther ‘unique’ seal goes up for auction

17th century silver Anstruther burgh seal - Lyon and Turnbull
17th century silver Anstruther burgh seal - Lyon and Turnbull

A BURGH seal not seen by the public since the “days of Cromwell” is to go under the hammer in Edinburgh.

The silver seal for the burgh of Anstruther dates back almost 400 years and its discovery has caused quite a stir among Lyon and Turnbull auctioneers in Edinburgh.

Expert Colin Fraser said: “It’s a wonderful piece of silver; an exceptionally rare thing and it’s important on so many levels.”

Not only will the lot be the earliest ever example of a hallmarked Scottish silver seal to come to the market, it offers historians a chance to finally see the burgh’s earliest known armorial shield.

The seal was last referred to in the family papers of a St Andrews lawyer in 1899 and has belonged in private collection ever since.

Until recently, the current vendor was quiet unaware of the significance of the piece.

Attached to a turned ebony baluster handle, the seal - dated 1613-14 - features the motto ‘+S’ COMUNE. BVRGH. DE. ANSTREVTHER. EISTER’

Mr Fraser said: “This previously unrecorded armorial falls well before the first record taken of Scottish Burgh and Corporate seals in 1672 and is, therefore, the earliest representation of a burgh seal for the ‘Royal Burgh of Kilrenny, Anstruther Easter, Anstruther Wester’.

“The 1672 survey does record that arms had been used by the three burghs prior to 1672 but until now examples had failed to surface.

“The arms used on this piece are comparable to the later recorded examples but the exact placement and style is so far unique.”

To date, only one other marked pre-1700 Scottish silver seal has been recorded - the Portsburgh seal by Andrew Dennistoun of Edinburgh 1648-1650.

The Anstruther seal also represents a rare find for collectors of specific silversmiths.

Mr Fraser commented: “It’s believed to be made by Edinburgh maker David Milne whom we know about through documentary evidence but, until now, had seen nothing much by him.”

The auction house admitted valuation of the seal was “virtually impossible” but have placed an estimate on it of between £5000-£7000.

“Comparing items sold previously usually provides us with a good rule, but there’s been nothing like this ever sold before,” explained Mr Fraser.

“It’s unique and quite amazing. To see a piece of pre-1620 provincial silver is almost unheard of.”

The piece will come up for auction in the Scottish Silver and Accessories sale in August.

For more information contact Lyon and Turnbull on 0131 557 8844