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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Tankards - Antique Silver

( Orginally published August 1956 )



It was said in the early days of America that the great social vice was that of tippling, and we might claim that this vice has not abated in our own day. Then, as now, it was thought to do much to promote good fellowship and the helping-hand policy which was so prevalent in the colonies. Then, and often now, no business transaction was completed, marriage celebrated, or funeral ceremony performed without the lavish consumption of liquor. Beer and malt liquors had accompanied the Pilgrims from England, and their consumption afforded practically the only diversion indulged in by the early settlers. A law against drinking healths proved to be impossible of enforcement, and was repealed by the Massachusetts General Court in 1645. Cider presses became abundant by 1650 and astonishing amounts of this truly American drink were consumed at every meal.

No drinking vessel was more popular in New England in the seventeenth century than the tankard. Those often were six to eight and one-half inches high, broad at the base with straight tapering sides, flat top, and S handle reinforced occasionally by a rib down the side. Later a mid-band or bands 'were added, the covers domed with finialsl added and often the lids were engraved with intricate floral designs. In some sections the tankard handles were elaborately decorated while in others they were plain with occasional fluting. The cherub's head or other masks which often were applied to the tip were generally skillfully modeled and tooled for tankards were produced with pride and care by the silversmiths for their patrons.

Flagons a larger form of the tankaird, and probably used for keeping them filled came into use with the communion cup and were almost solely made for use in churches. These generally had a plain barrel and tall concave neck rising to a helmetshaped rim; broad splayed foot and S handle; the covers with a thumb piece or purchase, were flat at first and later became more domed with tall finials. By the end of the eighteenth century jug or barrel-shaped flagons were more popular.

A drinking vessel which was in common use when the first Settlers set out for the New world was the beaker. The emigrants from Holland and Scotland were particularly fond of their shape and in their countries they had been used primarily for communion cups. Beakers however, do not seem to have been in common use as a domestic utensil. The simplest form was a plain tumbler-shaped cup, hammered out of a flat piece of silver, tapering towards the bottom. Later a plain molding or splayed foot was added, and after that came the molded foot with the lower part of the cup gadrooned.

Caudle cups were for a warm drink usually consisting of thin gruel mixed with wine or ale and sweetened and sniced. Many believe they were introduced into the colonies by John Huft when he returned from England in 1663 as there is little evidence to show they were made in the colonies before that date. These cups were of a somewhat bulbous form with two handles and had a short incurved neck. There are many plain examples but they were generally decorated with flat-chased or embossed work. At the end of the seventeenth century the bulbous shape began to be replaced-by the straight-sided type with a rounded bottom and slightly flaring lip.

Another necessary silver article were the porringers with their flat open-work handles curiously wrought in various patterns and often inscribed with the initials of husband and wife. Some say the porringer was used for heating brandy and other liquors but that hardly seems possible as the open fires would have damaged the shallow bowls and it would have been impossible to hold the handle after the contents had become hot, and it would furthermore be difficult to pour from a porringer as the sides of the interior of thel body are concave. The probable use in those early days, as now, was for children's food of a soft nature and also as a convenience in time of illness for serving broth and soft foods. It is also probable that by the beginning of the eighteenth century they were used in the colonies for sugar bowls.

The teapots used in the colonies remind us by their diminutive sizes of the early days when tea was sold at a price which only allowed of its brewing and serving in tiny portions. Bohea tea sold at Boston in 1666 at 60 cents a pound. Many of these teapots made by colonial silversmiths were shorter in type than the taller English lantern-shaped teapots, and were of a definitely rounded or pear-ahaped style.

The scarcity of early candlesticks is possibly explained by the great cost of wax candles, a luxury which many of the early settlers felt unnecessary.

The business of a Silversmith was from the first a profitable one and many of the early silversmiths held important civic positions, were active in the councils of the colonies, and by their energies contributed much to the upbuilding of the nation.