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Early Imported Silver

There were capable silversmiths in America from the middle of the seventeenth century. The earliest of them naturally had to combine their calling with one or more other trades to make a living in a land so newly settled but, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, many of the 200,000 Americans living along the Atlantic seaboard were prosperous enough to afford some silver in their homes.

The majority of them, especially in New England, Pennsylvania, and New York, patronized native silversmiths. However, there was a more or less steady flow of imported silver from the mother country. In Virginia and the Carolinas especially, plantation owners were the chief purchasers of such luxuries as china, textiles, and silver. According to old records, many of them kept funds in London and commissioned their factors there to send them clothing and household goods "in the newest and latest fashion."

George Washington, being a Virginian, followed this custom. Among the New England families who bought English silver during the eighteenth century was that of Tobias Lear, private secretary and close friend of Washington. At least a dozen pieces are still in existence today.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the beautiful Queen Anne silver had little or no decoration. Later, the florid ornamentation of the rococo style held the public taste from about 1735 to 1770. But toward the close of the century there was a return to simplicity, the classic style of the Adam period dominating silver design. Bright-cut engraving was a favorite method of ornamentation.

Silver of the Queen Anne period or early eighteenth century undoubtedly appealed to the plain tastes of the American colonist In 1716,the plainer styles continued to be favored, and stayed in favor for over a century. The octagonal base and pear-shaped stem and the cylindrical candleholder were a combination both practical and pleasing to the eye.

The lighthouse coffee pot, so-called because of its form, was made in London in 1721 by Paul Lamerie. Considered the greatest of English silversmiths, he was born in Holland in 1688 where his Huguenot parents had fled from religious persecution in France. They later settled in England where Paul became a London silversmith, working there from 1710 to the end of his life in 1751. His name is practically synonymous with the rococo style, but he was equally expert with the unornamented Queen Anne style as is apparent from this example. Save for floral engraving on the spout, this coffee pot depends for its beauty on proportion.

In addition to the regular hallmarks, English silversmiths used individual touch marks which were duly registered. Lamerie had four. The first had the letters "LA" with crown and star above and cross below; the second, "PL" with pellet between, crown and lozenge above, and cross below, registered in 1724, appears on this piece made in 1729. The position of its ear-shaped wooden handle is unusual.

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