'The greatest yacht trophy ever' is going on display in Maastricht. Commissioned by sailing playboy Gordon Bennett in 1894, it could be yours for half a million

A monumental punch bowl, commissioned in America as prize for a yachting race, is to be exhibited and offered for sail in Masstricht at the TEFAF art and antiques event from 11 to 20 March 2016.

This trophy was presented to the winner of what was essentially a two-yacht race between Andrew Barclay Walker of Glasgow’s Ailsa and the Prince of Wales’ Britannia. The race, held off Nice on 29 March 1895, was sailed over a triangular course of thirty miles with eight turns. At the time the race generated more interest than any other previous contest and contemporary reports tell of Nice harbour filled with boats packed with keen spectators – not dissimilar to the attention that The America’s Cup attracts today. The Ailsa, under Captain Thomas Jay of Rowhedge, triumphed, narrowly beating the Britannia by two minutes one second.

The Prince of Wales' First-class rater 'Britannia'

The Prince of Wales’ First-class rater ‘Britannia’

Commissioned from Tiffany’s of New York in 1894 by the flamboyant playboy, James Gordon Bennett Jr., the punch bowl stands 25 inches high and has an asking price of £450,000. Gordon Bennett commissioned the punch bowl as a trophy for a sailing race and when it was unveiled, the Bennett Indian Yacht Cup was described as ‘the most beautiful yachting prize as well as the most costly ever offered’ (the price paid at the time $2,500).

James Gordon Bennett Jr. (1841 – 1918) was regarded as ‘a rogue and rambunctious heir’. It is likely that his many antics resulted in his name being used as a phrase to express shocked amazement. He was the son of the founder of the New York Herald, who, in 1819, had emmigrated from Newmill in Banffshire, Scotland to the United States.

Having scandalised New York society, Gordon Bennett moved to Paris and created the Herald‘s first European edition in 1887. Popularly known as the Paris Herald and to Parisians as Le New York, the newspaper covered international news of politics, finance, sports and society.

Throughout his life Gordon Bennett had a passion for sponsoring sporting races, particularly the newly developing sports notably motor, air balloon and early aeroplane races. The Grand Prix de France, for example developed from the Gordon Bennett Automobile Cup.

A keen sportsman, yachting was the foremost passion throughout his life and at the age of 16 Gordon Bennett became the youngest member of the NY Yacht Club and its Commodore from 1871-1874 and 1884-1885. He also introduced the game of polo to the United States, in addition to building the country’s first competition tennis courts.

Marrying for the first time at the age of 73, his wife was Maud Potter, widow of George de Reuter, whose father Julius Paul Reuter was the founder of Reuters News agency. Gordon Bennett died and is buried in France.

The punch bowl rests on an base cast with a mermaid and two dolphins in churning waves. The outside of the bowl is chased on one side with a scene of American Indians in canoes in front of a succession of steam ships. The two handles take the form of kneeling squaws.

Lewis Smith, Director of Koopman Rare Art, said:

‘We are delighted to be showing this outstanding Tiffany masterpiece at TEFAF Maastricht. Iconic pieces of great American silver such as this rarely come to the market. It is one of the most impressive yachting, indeed even sporting trophies of all time.’