of Small Collectors
Members' Window # 26
by Giorgio Busetto
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silver mate Maté is a word of 'quichua' origin (mati) that identifies a vase used for drinking. In Peru and Rio de la Plata maté is the name of calabash tree fruit ( 'Lagenaria vulgaris') used to contain an infusion of herbs originating in Paraguay (Olex Paraguariensis). The use of this container spread through South America and the name of the vessel (mate) became associated with name of the drink (Yerba Mate).
Yerba Mate (pronounced "yerba mahtay") is a medicinal and cultural drink of ancient origins. Introduced to the world by the Guarani Indians of South America, Mate contains ingredients that help keep its drinkers healthy and energetic.
Mate became the most common ingredient in household cures of the Guarani, and now, more than a drink, Yerba Mate has become a cultural phenomenon throughout South America.
In current practice in modern Argentina and Paraguay, Mate tea is made from the leaves steeped in hot water. Actually, a large quantity of ground leaf is first soaked in cold water, and then the hot water is added, over and over again, until all the good stuff has been extracted.
In between each addition of hot water the tea is ingested through a special wood or metal straw, called a bombilla, which filters out the leafy material. It is also used as a cold beverage.
This cup, originally a dried and decorated gourd, can be made out of almost anything these days and in South America Maté is still sipped using a metal or wood bombilla.
It is difficult to date a silver maté as they were of artisan production (unmarked). Usually the chronology is made through their style's evolution.
The most ancient were, presumably, of Peruvian origin, but there are documents attesting their existence in Buenos Aires (Argentina) since the beginning of the 18th century.
This silver maté stands on a dish (diameter 6 in.) supported by three paw feet. Three squirrels support the base of a cup made from a calabash shell with silver ornamentation and finish.
It is unmarked and 6 in. high (cm. 15,3).
silver mate: Hispano-American Museum - Buenos Aires

The Hispano-American Museum of Buenos Aires has a wide collection of silver maté and bombilla. Many of its pieces were presented in 1986 in Paris at the Exhibition 'Trois siècles d'orfèvrerie Hispano-Américaine'.

One of these items (catalogue 107), has the cup standing on three squirrels of shape quite similar to this one. Its origin may possibly be attributed to Chili or Cuyo (Argentina), middle of the 19th century.

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Giorgio Busetto
- 2006-