Thursday, September 28, 2023

Colonial Williamsburg Acquires Earliest Piece of American Silver in its Collection

(Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

WILLIAMSBURG — The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) recently added a 17th-century “caudle cup” to its collection of antique silverware.

The cup belonged to the Puritan congregation of the First Church of Christ in Farmington, Connecticut, and was used as a vessel for sacramental wine, it said.

“Colonial Williamsburg’s curators have worked diligently and with notable successes over the last decade to assemble a collection of American-made silver worthy of the institution’s other decorative arts holdings,” said Ronald L. Hurst, senior vice president for education and historic resources. “The acquisition of this particularly early and well-preserved cup provides us with an excellent starting point for the story of American silversmithing over the next century and half.”

CWF says that the cup was a treasured part of the church’s ecclesiastical service. The way the cup was designed, with its low body and two handles, made it easy to pass from one congregant to another. 

According to CWF, struck into one side of the cup near the rim is the mark of Robert Sanderson Sr. (1608-1693), a London-trained goldsmith who emigrated to America in 1639. On the bottom is the mark of his partner John Hull (1624-1683), a British-born tradesman who arrived in Boston in 1635. Also stamped into the cup is the mark of Jeremiah Dummer (1645-1718), the first native-born American silversmith, apprenticed to Hull in 1659.

CWF notes Dummer’s mark was struck over Sanderson’s, while Hull’s mark was struck over Dummer’s, and while the meaning is unclear, it likely has to do with Dummer’s transition from journeyman to master, and the opening of his own silversmithing business.

The caudle cup is the only known piece to carry the marks of all three artisans, CWF said, adding that sometime after, the church’s initials “F” and “C” (the ownership mark of ‘Farmington Church’) were engraved on the bottom of the cup flanking the center point. 

The trio is known in the field of numismatics — the study or collection of coins, paper currency, and metals — due to Hull’s appointment in 1652 as Mintmaster of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where he was assisted by Sanderson and Drummer, says CWF. The mint produced the famed Oak Tree and Pine Tree coinage.

“Considering the rarity and significance of Hull & Sanderson’s work, I’d long wanted to see an example of their hollowware come to Colonial Williamsburg, but wasn’t sure it would be possible,” said Erik Goldstein, the Foundation’s senior curator of mechanical arts and numismatics and interim curator of metals. “This caudle cup, which ties the silversmithing partners to their famed apprentice Jeremiah Dummer and has an impeccable provenance back to the time it was wrought, is almost too much to ask for. It will be in very good company with our comprehensive, 94-piece collection of Hull & Sanderson’s silver coins, gifted to the Foundation by the Lasser Family.”

The piece of silverware was stored, with a collection of 5 other cups, in a bank vault until 1964, when the caudle cups were loaned to the Wadsworth Antheneum in Hartford.

The congregation, Farmington Church, decided to sell the silverware in 2005, with the proceeds from the sale going to structural renovation and the construction of a new building. 

According to CWF, the caudle cup was purchased with funds from The Joseph H. and June S. Hennage Fund. Noted American silver aficionados, Mr. and Mrs. Hennage would have been delighted to know that funds from their bequest to The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation were used for this important acquisition, it said.

For more information, visit Colonial Williamsburg’s website

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