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New York Silversmiths - Seventeenth Century
At the Museum of the City of New York December 6 through January 31, 1963
Never before the current display at the Museum of the City of New York has there been a comprehensive exhibition devoted exclusively to the work of 17th century New York silversmiths. Objects dating from such an early period in the city's history are extremely rare. However, with the cooperation of other museums and private collectors throughout the country, Miss V. Isabelle Miller, curator of the silver collection at the museum has assembled over 100 fine examples of the silver which brightened New York homes and churches three centuries ago.
The display includes tankards and teapots, spoons, casters, porringers, bowls and beakers, each stamped with the maker's mark. Fourteen silversmiths--all those definitely known to have been working in New York before 1700--are represented. Primarily of Dutch, French Huguenot and English extraction, the New York silversmiths followed European designs, but adapted and simplified them to suit local tastes. Their workmanship was superb.
New York was, in those days, a flourishing town of about 5000. Committed neither by creed nor inclination to austerity, New Yorkers in the 17th century were prosperous merchants who enjoyed rich accessories and were already looking about for status symbols. Silver seemed a practical and popular one, for in addition to providing handsome and durable household objects, it also offered some financial security in those bankless days. The municipal currency was Spanish silver, and a thrifty burgher's savings were melted down and made into a tankard in lieu of a bank account. Many pieces bore the initials of the owner, making his wealth easily identifiable in case of theft.
The majority of pieces in the display are household objects, many of a type no longer in use. The giving of silver "funeral spoons" by the bereaved to friends of the family was a 17th century custom. One spoon in the exhibit was made by Cornelius Vander Burch and is engraved (in translation): "Given to Jan Bleecker at the funeral of Nicholas Van Rensselaer, died October 12, 1678."
Some of the silver displayed was made for use in church services. In contrast to the English Established Church, whose communion vessels came as gifts from the Crown and hence were made in England, the Dutch Reformed Church commissioned works by local smiths. One of these, a graceful communion beaker made in 1678 by Ahasuerus Hendricks, is the earliest dated piece in the exhibition.
17th century tankard by Jurian Blank, Jr., New York's earliest native-born silversmith, working 1668-1714; coat-of-arms is that of the Van Cortlandt family to whom it belonged.