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Spaulding Collection Of Boston Silver
( Article orginally published October 1945 )
We are so apt to think of Colonial Boston and New England as dominated by stern Puritan ideals of selfdenial and a disregard of all luxuries, it is surprising to find that the most elaborate American silver produced in the Colonial period was made by Boston makers for Boston families. While Puritan divines, such as Cotton Mather, were of the fire and brimstone school, there was a great deal of wealth expended in Boston on the art of luxurious living. The impressions of the Scotch physician, Dr. Hamilton, who visited Boston in 1744, bear this out. He speaks of the elegance of dress which he observed, the fine appearance of the women., and even of their grace in dancing!
Much Boston silver has been preserved, and the finest collection of it is at present appropriately housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, although the Garvan collection at Yale University also contains a larger representation of Boston makers. Two years ago an important private collection passed as a gife to the Museum, formed by Philip Leffingwell Spaulding, who had been Honorary Curator of American Silver at the Museum. It consists of fifty pieces by thirty silversmiths of the early period. Thirty-two of the pieces represent sixteen craftsmen who were born in the seventeenth century. Mr. Spaulding specialized in Boston silver, and there are twenty Boston makers in his group. Among them is the eminent John Coney, one of the greatest of all Boston makers, who was born in 1656; that master of elaborate silver, Edward Winslow, born, 1645; the aristocratic Jeremiah D mmer, merchant and ship-owner as well, who held a number of civil, offices, born, 1669; still earlier is Robert Sanderson, who was born in England in 1608, and apprenticed there in 1623. His partner, John Hull, also born in England, 1624, was once mint master of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and, with Sarrderson as his partner; was the maker of the famous "Pine Tree" shillings. John Burt, an extremely competent craftsman, famous for his fine tankards, was born in 1693; John Dixwell, born in 1680, was the son of one of the Regicides who condemned Charles I to death and escaped to this country after the Restoration of the Stuarts.
Most productive of all makers before the time of Paul Revere, who leads all Boston silversmiths in number of pieces, is Jacob Hurd, born in 1702, and active for a long period. His sons Benjamin and Nathaniel produced fine silver, but their work is later and Mr. Spaulding confined his interest to the early part of the eighteenth century. It is for that reason he included only one piece by the great Paul Revere, whose work belongs to the second half of the century. Other makers represented who were active in the early years are William Cross, who was born in 1658, and Edward Webb, who died in 1718; and John Edward (1671-1746), John Noyes (1674-1749), and William Cowell (1682-1736), Thomas Millner (ca. 1690-1745), and Andrew Tyler (1692-1741). William Jones of nearby Marblehead is represented, and Moody Russell (1694-1761) as well as George Hanners (ca. 1690-1740). These names and dates are given in detail to indicate the extent of this unusual collection, for the representation of so many early makers has been made possible only through years of patient search. Although we know from existing records that between 1650 and 1800 there were two hundred and thirty silversmiths who worked in Boston, all silver has had a perilous existence and much has been lost. Not only in its own time was it in danger of being melted down-the transference of coin into objects of silver serving as a kind of banking arrangement which sometimes necessitated the opposite performance but later years may have brought it to the melting pot.
Boston was already beginning to experience the prosperity of a thriving overseas trade with the West Indies and Europe in the first half century of the city's existence. John Josselyn, an English visitor who wrote An Account of Two Voyages to New England, published in 1662, says: "...the houses are for the most part raised on the sea-banks and wharfed out with great industry and cost, many of them standing upon piles close together on each side of the street, as in London. and furnished with many fair shops; their materials are Brick, Stone, Lime, handsomely contrived, with three Meeting Houses or Churches and a Town house built upon pillars where the Merchants may confer; in the Chambers above they keep their monthly Courts. Their streets are many and large, paved with pebble stone, and the South side adorned with Gardens and Orchards. The town is rich and very populous, much frequented by strangers; here is the dwelling of their Governor."As the result of their successful trading voyages, the Boston captains increased their store of silver coin, and this was the material turned over to the silversmith for the fabrication of the family plate. It kept the precious metal in a convenient form made it useful and decorative, and indicated to their neighbors the extent of their wealth. It could readily he melted down when needed.
The styles naturally followed those of England, although with a time lag of a decade or more, allowing for the transference of a new style across the Atlantic. The earlier silver is chiefly in the style known in England in the time of the Commonwealth, when Cromwell and his Roundheads were in power 1649-1660. The silver of this period was graceful and charming in its delicately embossed ornament, quite decorative in character, although in comparison with the ornate silver of the Charles I period which preceded the Commonwealth, it is most restrained in style. After the Commonwealth and with the return of Charles I to the throne, an era of great display in the decorative arts was begun. Extravagance and luxury were the rule of the day and it is not surprising to find the English makers of silver using elaborately embossed designs of fruit and foliage on silver. Even in Puritan Boston a more elaborate style was adopted, although not so flamboyant as English work of the late seventeenth century. The gadrooning, or series of raised lobes, on the base of the standing salt by Edward Winslow illustrated, and the applied leaf design known as "cut-card work" on the tankard by Jeremiah Dummer (on the cover and where the handle joins the base) are examples of the ornament with which the Boston ruakers followed the styles in fashion in England in their day. Finely pierced designs are also characteristic of Boston silver, represented here by the top of John Coney's caster. Another point to be noticed in Boston silver is the fine engraving of coats-of-arms and other ornament, represented among our illustrations by the covered bowl and a globular teapot by Jacob Hurd. Both show the Henchman arms, for their original owner, who was the Rev. Nathaniel Henchman, pastor of the First Church in Lynn. These pieces were made as the gift of Colonel Theolahilus Burrill (1669-1737), who left bequests of one hundred pounds each to the three churches of Lynn: The date of July 5, 1737, is in the engraved inscription on the teapot illustrated, which also records the names of the donor and the recipient. The bowl and cover, showing the Henchman arms on the large section and the crest on the upper one. could be used as two separate dishes mentioned so far is the graceful, simple two-handled: cup by John Dixwell, who was born in New Haven in 1680. Young Dixwell came to Boston in 1698 and became a Deacon and Elder of the New North Church. He had a son, Basil, who was also a silversmith but (lied in the French and Indian War. The cup of Dixwell belonged to a remarkable woman, Sarah Kemble Knight, who had a school in Boston in 1706 and numbered Benjamin Franklin among her pupils. She is chiefly remembered for having made a remarkable trip by horseback from Boston to New York in 1701, and wrote an account of it, the Journal of Madame Knight, which was not published until 1825, a book which is valued today for its comments on contemporary life. Toward the end of her life she lived with a married daughter, Elizabeth Livingston, in Norwich, Conn. While there she made a presentation of this cup to her church, and it is duly inscribed, The Gift of Sarah Knight to the Church of Christ in Norwich, April 20, 1722. She died in Norwich in 1727, where she was held in high esteem and was honored with the unusual title of Madame.