At a time when wealth was demonstrated not by the size of the house but in its furnishings and silverware, Pepys gradually began to acquire plate, made of silver, for domestic use. Some of it was by direct purchase, but more often it came in the very welcome form of a gift or perquisite of office. In July 1664, for instance, he received a fine leather case with a pair of silver-gilt flagons, the gift of Mr Gaudens, ‘which are endeed … so noble that I hardly can think they are yet mine.’ These were soon displayed to the envy of Pepys’ dinner guests, with a dozen silver salt cellars besides the ‘great Cupboard of plate’. Further acquisitions followed.
By February 1666, Pepys had so much silver that he was able to pick out pieces ‘to change for more useful plate’. In December he placed an order with the Goldsmith Sir Robert Vyner for twelve plates from Captain Cocke’s gift of £100, increasing his stock of plates to thirty overall. As he noted at the end of the year, ‘One thing I reckon remarkable in my own condition is that I am come to abound in good plate, so as at all entertainments to be served wholly with silver plates, having two dozen and a half.’
One of the great advantages of so much silver was the opportunity to show off and on 8 April 1667 Pepys wrote:
I home and there find all things in good readiness for a good dinner … we had, with my wife and I, twelve at table; and a very good and pleasant company, and a most neat and excellent, but dear dinner; but Lord, to see with what envy they looked upon all my fine plate was pleasant, for I made the best show I could, to let them understand me and my condition, to take down the pride of Mrs. Clerke, who thinks herself very great.
We hope that Pepys would appreciate seeing his silver on display, still arousing pride and envy among Londoners three hundred years later.