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Author Topic:   "Revere" snuffbox

Posts: 350
Registered: Dec 2006

iconnumber posted 02-20-2008 10:21 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for seaduck     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Today's Boston Globe has a story about someone who has a snuffbox that he is absolutely, positively certain is by Paul Revere...tho' others are doubtful. Some of you may be familiar with this piece -- he apparently offered it at auction online, but withdrew it when he had no takers. If so, you might be interested in the backstory.
A snuffbox by Revere? Pinch yourself, owner is told

A snuffbox by Revere? Pinch yourself, owner is told
Undaunted, R.I. collector says the experts are wrong

By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff | February 20, 2008

Everyone wants to own a piece of history, especially if there is a chance that it was made by Paul Revere.

Consider Steve Dionne, who says he "melted" the first time he saw the tiny silver snuffbox, the motto "Liberty is Pleasant" engraved on its tortoiseshell cover.

Dionne was smitten with the notion that the knickknack he had spotted had been made by Paul Revere. Unlike most New Englanders who dream of finding treasure in the attic, Dionne has sought to prove his unlikely contention with a patriot's zeal, refusing to back down in the face of the indifference of art historians.

"If the box could open up and talk, it would be screaming, 'Paul Revere,' " said Dionne, a gregarious building contractor from Providence. "When my eyeballs first hit the box, I was blown away by it, because I know his lettering. All I could think was, how am I going to prove it?"

In fact, he has yet to establish any connection between the box and Revere. But that did not stop him from putting it up for sale on eBay for $2.5 million. (He has since removed the listing, he said, because he found no takers.)

An amateur collector of early Americana, Dionne said he bought the snuffbox two years ago from an antiques dealer who told him it came from an estate sale in Vermont. Dionne declined to say what he paid for it, but called it a "decent, not enormous" sum.

Drawing on his own tireless research - and frequently quoting Revere's writings from memory - Dionne makes a detailed case for his view that the snuffbox was crafted by Revere around 1800 and that the early American patriot and silversmith used it to carry his own supply of snuff, the tobacco powder that was once considered a more stylish habit than cigarettes.

Dionne said he has contacted dozens of museums about the artifact - including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London - but none has undertaken a serious study of the item's provenance.

Curators at the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Paul Revere House in Boston said Dionne sent them photos of the snuffbox. They made it clear that they do not spend their time authenticating or appraising objects - so hold off on sending them that beer mug you're convinced once belonged to Sam Adams - but in this case they consulted experts. They saw no convincing evidence.

"It's an attractive dream to a lot of people that they've found an unknown piece, and it's hard to accept if it's not what they're hoping," said Anne Bentley, curator of the art collection at the Historical Society. "Revere is the epitome; everybody's got one."

Dionne is undaunted by such dismissals. He points to the unusual pique style of the box's construction, in which silver strands are laid into carvings in tortoiseshell. Though the technique was uncommon in early America, Dionne argues that Revere would have known it because of his father's French Protestant background. (Apollos Rivoire, a goldsmith, anglicized the family name after immigrating.)

Dionne also cites as evidence the scene on the box's cover, which depicts a cluster of buildings and fences, a winged heart floating above them, and the "Liberty is Pleasant" motto. The collector says the structures resemble those that stood on Revere's farm in Canton when he first bought it in 1801; furthermore, he says, the property was located near streets named Liberty and Pleasant.

Dionne said his research revealed that Revere did not always sign his creations with the trademark "PR" that adorns countless spoons and vessels recognized as his work.

A forensic document examiner Dionne hired from Texas, Joe Alexander, agreed with his assessment that the plain capital lettering on the box resembles Revere's engravings elsewhere.

Andrew Katz, a Vermont antiques appraiser hired by Dionne, confessed he first thought Dionne's claim was "off the wall," but he later signed on to the notion that the box could be authentic.

"When he started to outline the research he had done and I started doing my own, it made sense," said Katz.

That kind of backing has kept Dionne's belief alive.

He has been presenting his case to curators and experts, some of whom start laughing, he admits, as soon as he mentions Revere.

"People want to own things that have some significance or belonged to significant people," said the director of the Paul Revere House, Nina Zannieri.

"It's a very natural thing, and it can be hard to dissuade them," Zannieri said. "It makes it tough for folks like us who don't like to be in the dream-bashing business."

Dionne, holding fast to his dream, says the biggest problem with the box is its rarity. Among the hundreds of items credited to Revere, only two other snuffboxes are known to exist.

When specialists are presented with something they know nothing about, he said, "they're very reluctant to want to put their name on it. The question I'd like to ask them, if I could pile them all in a room, is who could have produced it, on top of Paul Revere?"

Dream on, Steve Dionne

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Clive E Taylor

Posts: 450
Registered: Jul 2000

iconnumber posted 02-20-2008 10:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Clive E Taylor     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The attribution of objects to the great and good is a minefield. The English equivalent is Nelson. I have seen so many buckles with, almost always , an ancient tag saying "One of Nelsons shoe buckles" that I am suspicious of virtually all of them. One was on Ebay recently, Irish and in relict condition. Not impossible to have adorned the Admiral's shoe but so unlikely that Nelson would have worn one in that condition as to be discountable, and equally unlikely for it to have had that degree of wear subsequently. I described it as "Nelsons buckle from his gardening shoes on HMS Victory"
I would be more inclined to support the owner of this snuff box. If he can show writing similarities unique to Revere then he has case.

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Posts: 602
Registered: Apr 2004

iconnumber posted 02-20-2008 10:54 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for argentum1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I remember the piece well. If he wants to think it is Revere then good for him. This reminds me of the lady on Antique Roadshow telling the appraiser, "well, you could be wrong". Yes, he could be wrong but do not bet your life on it. I for one think Revere silver is totally, outrageously overpriced. Now if he had taked some silver on that ride and banged a few Bristish solders up side the head with it. Then I would say ok on a high value of those specific pieces. I will shut up now and please do not throw things at me for my heretical views on Revere. Unless you throw porringers, ladles and the such.

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Posts: 1627
Registered: Mar 2003

iconnumber posted 02-20-2008 11:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Kimo     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It is human nature to want to own something that once belonged to someone famous (or infamous as well). There is so much stuff found in families' heirlooms with elaborate attributions to someone famous and that somehow came into possession of one of their ancestors that people like Paul Revere would have to have been working 24 hours a day, seven days a week for hundreds of years to have made all of the things people are 'certain' must have been made by him. Or people like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln must have had a hundred warehouses to hold all of the things people have tucked away in their attics that they are 'certain' were once owned by them. And so on. Family histories get elaborated from one generation to the next. Unless an object can be shown to be what it is purported to be through serious scholarship or through unassailable provenance, the best you can ever say is that it is 'in the style of' someone and it has no value beyond any other similar object made by or once owned by any other person. If this box has no Revere markings on it and if there is no fully documented unbroken chain of possession from Paul Revere or if there are no fully documented examples just like it to compare it it, it is just a nice old snuffbox. An argument that 'you can not prove that it wasn't made by Revere' is meaningless since the burden of proof is on the person who it averring the it was made by Revere. Otherwise, one could make the equally valid argument that it was made on the planet Mars by aliens and brought to earth where it was given to someone's ancestor.

[This message has been edited by Kimo (edited 02-20-2008).]

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Posts: 2334
Registered: Mar 2003

iconnumber posted 02-20-2008 04:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I saw a large Old Sheffield Plate tray last week that had engraving on the back tracing ownership back to George Washington through Martha Washington’s family. The last descendent certainly could prove that they were descended from Martha Washington and they may have had records in sufficient detail to show how the tray passed on from generation to generation. However, someone during this 200 year time period modified the tray by adding inappropriate feet, handles and a “decorative border”. None of these additions could be removed and George would no doubt turn over in his grave if he saw what someone in Martha’s family had done. The time period of the additions looked to me to be the 1840’s or 50’s and I suspect someone wanted to bring the tray up to date.

It was nice however to pick up the tray and think that a portion of this tray was something that George actually held.

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Posts: 350
Registered: Dec 2006

iconnumber posted 02-20-2008 06:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for seaduck     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
<<It was nice however to pick up the tray and think that a portion of this tray was something that George actually held. >>

And that, I think, is one of the most appealing things about old silver. That other hands have made it and held it. Not necessarily famous people. But because it has always been special, people made it, bought it, gave it, and used it for all sorts of reasons through their lives.

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Ulysses Dietz

Posts: 1265
Registered: May 99

iconnumber posted 02-22-2008 07:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ulysses Dietz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Revere wasn't actually the best silversmith in Boston, and it's his legend (which is largely myth anyway) that makes his work such a sacred cow. He was a fine businessman and retired very well set up, as his elder portrait by Gilbert Stuart in the MFA Boston attests.

But even if this snuff box was the very one that Paul R slept with under his pillow every night for a dozen years, it wouldn't be worth $2.5 million.

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