‘A Handsome Cupboard Of Plate’ To Open May 3 In Williamsburg

Photo: Lael R. White
John Coney, sugar box, Boston, 1690–1710, silver. Colonial Williamsburg Museum Purchase, 1961–38.

WILLIAMSBURG, VA. — Early American silver from one of the best private holdings of English and American silver in the world will be presented in a traveling exhibition at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. “A Handsome Cupboard of Plate: Early American Silver from the Cahn Collection” will be on exhibit at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum for a year, opening May 3 and continuing through May 25, 2015.

The exhibition will showcase more than 50 objects from the collection of Paul and Elissa Cahn. The exhibition explores the development of silver crafted for household use in colonial America, with emphasis on the makers and their distinctive styles. In addition to the pieces from the Cahns’ collection — which feature new acquisitions not previously exhibited, including a rare circa 1690 brandywine bowl by Cornelius Vander Burch of New York and a pair of sauceboats by Paul Revere — 14 pieces from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation collections will be added to supplement the exhibition.

“We are honored to host a special exhibition of such outstanding American silver,” said Janine E. Skerry, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation curator of metals. “The Cahn Collection bears witness to the skill and diversity of American silversmiths working in Boston, New York and Philadelphia from the end of the Seventeenth Century to the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. The objects are beautiful individually, but taken as a whole they form a remarkable document of our artistic and historic heritage.”

In Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Britain, as well as in the colonies that would later become the United States of America, silver objects were just as much a measure of a person’s intrinsic wealth as they were beautiful and utilitarian works of art. Silver was not only valuable, but also malleable — thus it could easily be fashioned into tableware, vessels and personal adornments.

Known simply as “plate,” such wares were often displayed on a cupboard in the principal room to impress visitors. Silver could also be melted down for ready money in an economic downturn, or refashioned into the latest style. In the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, American silversmiths made it increasingly unnecessary to order from abroad. Many came from immigrant families and worked in cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. Some, such as patriot silversmith Paul Revere Jr of Boston, also became active in political, religious and civic organizations in their communities.

“American silver tells the story of fine craftsmanship, religious and cultural assimilation and patriotism — all key themes at Colonial Williamsburg,” Paul Cahn said recently. “I am very happy that our collection is being featured at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. It’s a perfect fit and a wonderful opportunity for the foundation to focus on an important American art form.”

Amassed over more than 30 years, the Cahn collection showcases the strong design and fine craftsmanship of silverworks from this period of American history. Noteworthy examples from this collection are featured in the exhibition include waiters, sauceboats, coffeepots and tea services.

Highlights include a 1763 “Eight Square” (octagonal) sugar dish from one of the most prolific Philadelphia silversmiths of his era, Quaker Joseph Richardson Sr.; a finely engraved waiter, circa 1768, by New York silversmith Myer Myers, which was commissioned as a presentation to merchant, officeholder and land speculator Theodorus Van Wyck; and a circa 1792 tea set by Revere.

A fully illustrated catalog accompanies the exhibition and is written by independent scholar Deborah Dependahl Waters. An essay by David L. Barquist, the H. Richard Dietrich Jr, curator of American Decorative Arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is also included.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg is the final venue for “A Handsome Cupboard of Plate,” which was organized by and first appeared at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and traveled to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Missouri History Museum in St Louis.

The Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg are at the intersection of Francis and South Henry Streets. For additional information, 757-220-7724 or www.history.org.

Paul Revere Jr pair of sauceboats, Boston, circa. 1790, silver. Cahn Collection; image Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Photo: David Ulmer

Myer Myers salver, New York, circa 1768, waiter, silver, 1¼ by 121/16 inches. Cahn Collection, Image ©2011

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