The Treasury has backed down over plans to sell off historic Privy Council silver. Dating from 1685-1707, the four candle snuffers and trays with the royal arms were originally put up for auction at Bonhams last October, but were withdrawn following protests from heritage groups. In March, the Treasury announced that instead it would sell the silver to an institution that would put it on public display. The items were valued at around £100,000, but national museums did not see why they should pay for objects which already belonged to the government.
On 12 July the Treasury revealed in a Parliamentary answer that the silver items originally offered at Bonhams would be transferred to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which will “lend them to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) on condition that they are shared with appropriate regional institutions.” The V&A received the Privy Council pieces in early August and plans to put them on display in its silver galleries later this month. During the next few years they may be lent to regional museums.
One result of the arrangement is that ownership of the silver has passed to DCMS, which will therefore have to pay the Treasury a “capital charge” of six percent a year on their value. Under the planned capital charge system, government departments are to pay a levy on their buildings and capital goods. Although DCMS funding from the Treasury will be initially increased to cover these charges, this could eventually lead to renewed pressure for the Privy Council silver to be sold.
Despite the V&A loan, it has been revealed that the Treasury still has further items of heritage silver, valued at £1.2 million. These include 12 candlesticks (£600,000), three inkstands (£450,000), a pair of candle-snuffers and four trays (£125,000).
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'London: UK Treasury decides not to sell its silver'