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Silver Armada Dishes

Antique Silver Armada Dish

While different types of antique silver can attract different types of collectors and buyers, some categories evoke a bigger sense of history than others. This is true of Armada or Drake dishes that have a whole raft of historical stories associated with them.

Rediscovered in the early 20th century after being hidden for hundreds of years, the Armada dishes are highly distinctive. While the originals can cost a pretty penny, since about 1911, these amazing dishes have been reproduced by silversmiths around the world and have become extremely collectable.

What is a Silver Armada Dish?

They were a series of 26, partly gilt dishes that are stamped with the coat of arms of Christopher Harris, an associate of Sir Walter Raleigh. The original dishes are dated between 1581 and 1601. They have a distinctive upward curving base with a wide rim and would have been used for special dining occasions in Elizabethan times.

In the last 100 years, they have been widely reproduced by silversmiths and have been used for everything from award presentations to anniversary gifts.

The History of the Original Armada Dish

There are some apocryphal stories surrounding the Armada dishes and no one entirely knows the real truth. The most romantic notion is that the originals were fashioned from silver taken from captured Spanish ships during the war between Spain and England. They were certainly obtained by Christopher Harris, but his connection with Raleigh is the only proof we have that it’s all linked to the Armada.

Sir Christopher Harris may have come into possession of the dishes because of his friendship with Raliegh but he also worked in the admiralty office at the time. He was part of the fleet that defeated the Spanish armada and he may have been given the dishes as a reward for his service. What makes the dishes so intriguing is that most silver and other metals were generally melted down for various reasons and for a collection like this to survive this long is unusual.

How the silver Armada dishes came to light in the 20th century is even more intriguing. It’s thought that the silver was hidden in a cave on Dartmoor to prevent it from falling into the hands of Cromwell’s troops during the English Civil War. They were only discovered again when the cave was excavated by labourers in 1827 at which point they were returned to the Harris family.

When the dishes were eventually sold in 1911, they fetched £11,000 at auction, a pretty penny at the time. What this started was a new market for developing reproductions of the sets. While buying an original Armada dish is beyond most of us, these reproductions are readily available and are still produced today. The originals are on display in the British Museum with a value of over a million pounds but you can pick up a reproduction for as little as a few hundred pounds.

There is one additional mystery associated with the silver Armada dishes. There seem to be five dishes missing. Whether they are still buried somewhere in the cave on Dartmoor or are hidden away in someone’s attic, we simply don’t know.

Reproduction Armada Dish

For collectors, silver Armada dishes are a good investment and there are plenty of examples on the market today. You can pick up a vintage dish from between several hundred pounds to just under a thousand. These dishes have undergone a few changes in design from the originals. There used to be a concave bowl at the bottom of the dish and this has been flattened out. The rim is no longer inscribed with circles but is plain in most cases.

Armada Dishes for Christenings, Weddings and Anniversaries

There are lots of different reasons to invest in an Armada dish. They are excellent for special occasions such as christenings and anniversaries as they not only look aesthetically pleasing but can be engraved with a special message. While they are no longer used for dining in most cases, Armada dishes make an excellent display ornament for areas like the mantelpiece or a cabinet.

Presentations and Prizes

One of the most popular reasons for buying silver armada dishes is for presentations and prizes. They’ve been used as the base for many sporting events in the past, everything from horse racing and football matches to local darts tournaments and tennis competitions. Again, the size means that you can fit a wordy engraving on the surface without much problem.

Retirement Gifts

Another ideal reason for buying a silver Armada dish is for a retirement gift. It allows you to engrave something meaningful for the recipient as well as give them something that will grow in value over time.

Tips for Buying Silver Armada Dish

Reproduction silver Armada dishes are generally made from solid silver and many different silversmiths over the years have produced them including well-known names such as Carr’s of Sheffield.


As with any silver product, you should always look for the hallmarks stamped on the dish. These usually include up to five stamps that signify the maker’s name, the date it was made and the quality of the silver. Reproduction silver Armada dishes were made from around 1911 and price varies depending on age and the maker.


Of course, silver can become tarnished over time and it’s important to look at the condition of the Armada dish before you buy. If you are purchasing from a reputable silversmith such as Edinburgh Silver, you can be sure that the dish will have been faithfully restored and any damage repaired.


The other thing to note about silver Armada dishes is that they come in various sizes to meet all occasions. The larger ones can be up to 12 inches in diameter and make an excellent gift or presentation piece.

Where To Find Silver Armada Dish

It’s important when buying an antique or vintage silver item to source from a reputable company. This is doubly true of silver Armada dishes. Buying from a silversmith such as Edinburgh Silver gives you complete peace of mind that the validity of the piece you are buying has been thoroughly checked and any restoration carried out to the highest standards.

Want to find out more? Check out the current listing on our website for Armada dishes.

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