This fine coconut cup shows a tantalising relationship between Scotland and Russia in the late 18th century. The relationship was much closer than many realise with strong trading routes long established which had been to the success of many Scottish merchants throughout the east coast. Scotland also 'exported' many men to Russian who would play not only important parts in the military, architecture, photography but medicine. Indeed Dr. John Roger, physician to Catherine the Great, was born in Dumfriesshire. Over time no fewer than twelve Noble Russian families can trace their ancestry back to Scotland.
The coconut cup tells part of this story. The coconut itself appears to have been carved in Russia, the fine skills not seen in Scotland or the UK at the time, and is inspired by the fine craftsmanship expected of the Russian court. The portraits are direct copies from known official portrait and medallions which must have been closely copied from life, again something unlikely available in Scotland. It seems possible the coconut may originally have been presented to a Scottish noble man or person of high status. The blank carved section, now inlaid with silver, being used as mounts for either silver or ribbons to suspend the 'egg' as seen with porcelain examples.
It is tempting to think that due to the Royal representation on the coconut of Catherine the Great, Empress Elizabeth and Tsarevich Peter there was a close relation to the commission and gift perhaps even from one to a favoured Scot within their court. On return to Scotland this prized and rare possession was created into a more functional and European item - a coconut cup. No expense has been spared as the interior has been lined in silver gilt a feature rarely found on Scottish examples. The new form has been carefully done to compliment the original item rather than alter it and again raise its status to the original owner and show it and their importance within a family collection.
Alexander Gairdner is a maker often overlooked by collectors due to such illustrious contemporaries as William Dempster, William & Patrick Cunningham and Patrick Robertson all of whom were supplying the Edinburgh trade at the same time and received many important commissions. He would become one of Edinburgh's longest serving goldsmiths working from 1754 (after his apprenticeship to William Aytoun) until his death in 1803, a career of some 49 years perhaps only bettered by the 51 years of James Mitchelson. During this period he took some 14 apprentices, including his some John in 1773. He acted as Deacon of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths of the City of Edinburgh for one term between 1772 - 1774.
Gairdner also appears to have been one of a very small handful of Scottish goldsmiths who received Royal patronage, this is noted on the occasion of the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Caroline of Brunswick (8th April 1795), The Caledonian Mercury noted that 'Mr. Gardner, Jeweller to his Royal Highness for Scotland, had a beautiful representation of the Prince's feathers in small lamps on the front of his shop, which had a very fine effect, and attracted much notice'. He also uses a variant of his maker's mark which features Prince of Wales feathers within the punch. This has so far only been recorded on a very fine Freedom box for the Burgh of Dumfries, given to Sir Henry Dundas.