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Museums To Visit To Find Great Silver
Today's museum is no longer a stuffy institution but a place where exhibits are well arranged and well lighted and where trained staffs gladly help the public to understand the exhibits and to solve problems of personal interest. Director, curators, and personnel are highly trained. Many do research and write articles and books about various phases of their subjects. A fine working library is available to help with marks and makers.
Valuations of old silver, however, are not the province of a museum. In any case there are no fixed values for silver and museums do not buy and sell as dealers do. Silver acquired by museums comes through gifts or through purchase from reputable dealers and at auctions. Museums buy in the open market just as individuals do.
The museum is there for you. Learn to use it and to enjoy it. Learn to know the staff and show your appreciation for their interest. Even the larger institutions are more or less dependent on the public for loans and gifts. The largest public museum in this country is, of course, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Here in the American Wing with its paneled rooms taken from famous houses you will see the silver of the time and place. Special exhibits of fine silver are also held here with many examples of the work of New York craftsmen.
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is rich in examples of the work of Boston and other New England silversmiths. There is also a special permanent exhibit of the work of Paul Revere, his tools, and his portrait by John Singleton Copley. Revere's descendants have been generous with his silver and the curators, Edwin J. Hipkiss and Mrs. Henry Yves Buhler, have managed to find the finest pieces possible for the Museum.
The Museum of the City of New York and the New York Historical Society, both in New York City, have much fine American silver, particularly that made by New York craftsmen.
The Albany Institute of History and Art has a good collection particularly representative of Albany silversmiths. This museum has done considerable research on local craftsmen and is adding their work to its collection.
The Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, under the direction of Dr. John Marshall Phillips, owns the outstanding Garvan Collection of rare American silver, including the unique gold spoons made by Simeon Soumaine (1685-1765).
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has American silver with quantities of the best work of the Philadelphia makers. During the late eighteenth century, just before and at the time when that city was the capital of the nation, its silversmiths turned out a great deal of beautiful work including many fine complete tea sets.
The Baltimore Museum of Art is noted for examples of the work of Baltimore and Annapolis silversmiths and also of men who worked on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
The Worcester (Massachusetts) Art Museum and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence have good collections of American silver and examples of the work of local makers.
While the majority of the early silversmiths worked in the East, silver, like everything else, moved west so there is much of it in museums far from the places where it was made. The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Cleveland Museum of Arts, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Chicago Art Institute all have important collections. Farther west, there are collections in the City Art Museum at St. Louis, Missouri, and in the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.
Many smaller museums and historical and patriotic societies over the country have American silver of which they are proud. Often extremely rare pieces are found in these smaller collections.
Incidentally those who own fine silver should know that museums are grateful for loans of personal collections or even single pieces of quality. They especially welcome examples of local interest and pieces of historical significance and they offer 4 safe place in which to share your silver.
If you own family silver or have acquired a collection, you will eventually have to think about its disposal. If you have the history of your silver, be sure it is in writing so that there will be an authentic record for those who inherit it. This is important. It is your contribution to posterity. Your will should also definitely direct to whom your silver is to go. Keep in mind that if you give your treasures to a museum, you will be bringing knowledge and delight to many people.