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Author Topic:   British silver in America pre-1842
Ulysses Dietz
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iconnumber posted 04-16-2005 03:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ulysses Dietz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Everyone, I bow to your knowledge in advance. I was in the middle of giving a tour of my current American silver exhibition (see my forum)...and stopped dead after mouthing a truism: "Before the Tarriff Act of 1842, it was hard for American silversmiths to compete with imported British silver..."

It dawned on me, that I really don't know of very much English silver of the 1820s and 30s that has any sort of American history dating back to that time. We know that Storr & Mortimer had a shop briefly in New York City (before the tarriff shut them down, presumably)--but where did that American-sold Storr silver go? I figure that historically Americans got obsessed with Colonial Silver in the 1880s, and dismissed most English silver, unless they collected that as a separate thing (and we know that tons of English silver was imported by collectors from the 1880s on with no regard to any American history). So, where is all the English silver with American histories? Shrubsole recently had a great rococo London coffeepot with a full Boston history back to its importing in the 1760s, but things like that are awfully rare--or are they? This is a case of the tunnel-vision of Americana collectors obscuring a very interesting and important story.

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nihontochicken

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iconnumber posted 04-16-2005 04:07 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for nihontochicken     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm not sure, without provenance, how one would know an early nineteenth century piece of Brit silver had an early American history, save a couple of exceptions that immediately spring to mind (of course, others may come up with more). First, if it were engraved in a contemporary style with a known American name or, failing that, a full first or last name (i.e., "Emma", "J. Smith", etc.), since the Brits usually went with crests and monograms. Second is the unique example of Old English pattern flatware with coffin end finials. These, of course, could have been recently modified, but there seems to be less financial motivation for such subtrafuge than there is with, say, fiddle pattern American pieces. I beleive there is an old thread on this site regarding coffin end Brit flatware that you might find via the Search function. Good luck in your search!

Edit: Here is the link for the earlier thread on coffin end Brit spoons. Just a small piece of the overall question, but might be worth a read.
Coffin End Old English???

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swarter
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iconnumber posted 04-16-2005 07:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
So, where is all the English silver with American histories?

I am not sure whether you are confining your inquiry to the Federal period, but since you mention one piece going back to 1760, your question may pertain to the Colonial period as well.

I think it has been said that there was more English silver owned by Americans than was made locally, in part due to the scarcity of raw silver, and also to a preference of Colonial buyers (who still- considered themselves English) for the English. It is documented in the surviving papers of such prominent American silversmiths as the Richardsons and Paul Revere, among others, that they ordered and imported a great deal of silver from England for resale; such prominent Americans as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson imported directly themselves; and ads of American silversmiths of the period are replete with references to imported goods "just arrived" and "in the latest styles". English Silver at Williamsburg documents many pieces with Virginia histories; old churches have many pieces of both American and English origin that have been in their possession for 2-300 years. Unfortunately, most early silver has lost provenance over the years, and most people assume that whatever English silver they encounter in America was brought over more recently, when there is no evidence one way or the other (one does not need provenance to know that silver made by an American silversmith is American in origin). However it may be assumed that the many loyalists who returned to England took their silver with them back to England, so that all silver imported to these shores may have not remained here.

American silver production does seem to have increased in the New Republic, but as silver ownership had expanded beyond the wealthiest classes by then, it is difficult to know how this relates proportionally to imported silver - one assumes imports would have decreased after the Revolution and again after the War of 1812-14, but advertisements of imported silver goods persisted.

There are prior threads in which this topic has been discussed, but they might be difficult to find as the subject may have come up under other topics.

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ahwt

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iconnumber posted 04-17-2005 07:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Charles Venable in his book "Silver in American 1840-1940 A Century of Splendor" has an interesting chapter on the Tariff of 1842. The act placed an ad valorem tax on imported silver, textiles, iron, glass and porcelain from 20 to 30 percent. The tax, at least on silver goods, had to be paid in silver. This of course was great for American silversmiths as they now had an opportunity to gain experience and capital to increase their own productivity. They also benefited from an increase raw material to make silver since the tax was paid in silver. Senator Henry Clay was a leader in getting this legislation passed. The artisans of New York City presented Senator Clay a beautiful urn surmounted by an American eagle. This urn is now in the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation collection. The results of this tariff, according to Venable, were quick as the London firm of Storr and Mortimer closed their New York store within a year of the act.

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Ulysses Dietz
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iconnumber posted 04-19-2005 10:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ulysses Dietz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Venable was what set me off...because I have always assumed the truth of this, and knew of the closure of the Storr & Mortimer shop in NYC after the tarriff. So, since English silver imported after 1780 would not have returned to England with loyalists, then what happened to all the family heirloom silver from England that should, presumably, still be in American hands? It just seems that it should still be here, or at least should have been sold with histories intact--unless it was sold early on, say in the 19th century (I mean post 1876) and thus its history wouldn't have mattered. The idea that Colonial imports of Brit silver would have gone back to England with the loyalist owners makes sense...but what of all the folks who stayed put in Virginia and the old south?--maybe all their English silver is still there, and we just don't pay attention to it. Probably because it's not Paul de Lamerie...

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swarter
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iconnumber posted 04-19-2005 12:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One other thought occurs tome in addition to those expressed earlier. With the breakdown of family structure that accompanied the dispersal of families after and since WWII, younger people seem to have little regard for "old stuff," and seem ready to dump what others consider heirlooms. There is still a lot of Georgian silver around without provenance, but a horrendous amount was destroyed in the Hunt Brothers precipitated "Great Meltdown." I expect that a greater effort was expended to rescue American silver than Georgian. I remember seeing great piles of silver bought for scrap in the shops of silver buyers - too much for any one person to rescue at the price of silver then. Most of them knew so little about antique silver that it was all scarred by filing and acid testing, and some couldn't even be bothered to let you examine their holdings. I remember antique dealers at the time bemoaning the fact that people had no respect for Georgian silver, but that someday it would come into its own right. At that time too, there was little market for Coin silver flatware in the West, where coin silver was little appreciated or even recognized - I couldn't afford what little holloware that was around, but I bought a lot of spoons.

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akgdc

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iconnumber posted 04-19-2005 06:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for akgdc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I suspect the biggest reason may be that a lot of it has been "re-exported" to England by British antique dealers (and U.S. dealers trading with the Brits) over the past 100 years. Even today, the market for English silver is stronger there than here ... and I'm sure many of us are familiar with the phenomenon of London dealers showing up at silver auctions here in search of bargains. That was probably just as true 40 or 80 years ago, when the pound was even stronger and the English silver market much stronger, too. Also, very few Yanks (relative to Brits) are familiar with the hallmarking system, so it's easier to fleece our compatriots of those pieces that aren't stamped "STERLING." All these factors have combined to make our shores a happy hunting ground for Georgian silver.

"Old family plate" (whether your own or someone else's) is still a status symbol in England in a way that it hasn't been here for a long time, which is why the trans-Atlantic migration continues. (Notice that Brits seem to snap up many of the better pieces of English silver that American sellers offer on eBay.) I recall seeing a soup tureen in a Sotheby's London catalogue a few years ago with a Latin inscription saying it had been presented by the colonial legislature of Connecticut. Doubtless there are many more such pieces without telltale inscriptions.

I'm skeptical of the idea that much crossed the Atlantic with the Loyalists. Loyalists were no more likely than patriots to own English vs American-made silver (witness the fact that Washington and others bought English silver, both before and after the Revolution). Also, the number of Loyalist emigres was statistically not very significant (estimated at 24 emigres per 1,000 residents).

For an English piece of mine with 18th-century American provenance, see the thread "Favorite silver."

[This message has been edited by akgdc (edited 04-20-2005).]

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ahwt

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iconnumber posted 04-20-2005 12:33 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for ahwt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I wonder how much finished silver was actually imported from foreign countries once the tariff began and whether the tax actually produced much silver as payment. If a firm as significant as Storr & Mortimer closed after the tax began would not others also have had a difficult time overcoming the tax? Could it be that after 1842, "old" English silver was traded in for objects of the latest fashion?

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Dale

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iconnumber posted 04-20-2005 01:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
For what it is worth, I have found English sterling scattered all over the Midwest. It shows up, or at least used to, in country auctions and stores. Frequently mixed in with the silverplate. It seems to have become kitchen ware, used in cooking.

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akgdc

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iconnumber posted 04-20-2005 06:57 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for akgdc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Definitely, "old" English silver was traded in for more modern styles in the 1800s, but then so was old American silver -- and perhaps in even greater proportions, since its design was more likely to look "crude," "primitive," or "plain" to a Victorian eye.

I should have added above, by the way, that most Loyalist emigres did not go "back to England," but rather to other British colonies such as Canada and islands in the West Indies (from which some eventually returned to the U.S. once things had cooled down).

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Ulysses Dietz
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iconnumber posted 04-22-2005 02:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Ulysses Dietz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

This is Miss Mercy Shiverick Hatch, d. 1852, a Boston beauty who was wealthy and never married (painted by Gilbert Stuart in the early 19th century). She owned a four piece tea and coffee set by Peter and William Bateman of London, made for her 1806-7. Both the teaset and the portrait are in The Newark Museum. So here's one example of English silver originally owned by an American (purchased in Boston?). Don't know why I didn't put this in earlier. We have no pictures of the silver at all. Typically.

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