Tag: sheffield plate
A highlight of the week of Americana Week sales, Christie’s is honored to announce that the sale of a Sheffield-plated silver wine cooler, given by George Washington to Alexander Hamilton in 1797 (estimate: $400,000-600,000). This four-bottle wine cooler is an exceptionally well documented historical object, symbolizing the famous partnership between Washington and Hamilton in the early days of the republic.
Never before seen by the public, it is being sold by direct descendants of Alexander Hamilton.
“Christie’s is honored to have been entrusted with this piece of American material history—the only three-dimensional object known to connect Washington with Hamilton, his most important collaborator,” says Jeanne Sloane, deputy chairman and head of silver. “We were thrilled to locate Washington’s original letter of presentation dated August 21, 1797, in the Library of Congress.”
The four-bottle wine cooler is one of four commissioned by George Washington in 1789 to be used for entertaining after dinner. Detailed correspondence between Washington and his emissary, Gouvernor Morris, who was tasked with procuring objects to outfit the President’s House, describes the great level of forethought Washington devoted to creating an appropriate style for the new country.
In response to Washington’s admonition to “avoid extravagance,” Morris wrote to Washington in 1790, “I think it of very great importance to fix the Taste of our Country properly, and I think Your Example will go very far in that respect. It is therefore my Wish that every Thing about you should be substantially good and majestically plain; made to endure.”
Embodying this intent to be majestically plain, the elegant wine cooler is simply decorated with lion’s mask and ring handles. The choice of Sheffield-plated silver, a layered combination of silver and copper, instead of solid silver, emphasizes the founding fathers’ preference for austerity.
Washington’s fastidious attention to detail is demonstrated in his letter to Morris where he specifies the design of the cooler, “with an allowance in the depth of it for ice at bottom so as to raise the neck of the decanter above the cooler…The reason why I prefer an aperture for every decanter or bottle to coolers that would contain two and four is that whether full or empty the bottles will always stand upright and never be at variance with each other.”
An inventory written by Washington when his presidential term was through describes the silverware bought by him and by the Federal government. Of the four coolers that he purchased, Washington took two to Mount Vernon, sold one, and he presented the fourth to Hamilton, underscoring the importance to Washington of their 22-year relationship.
The letter that Washington sent to Hamilton with the wine cooler was engraved on the object by Hamilton’s descendants in the mid-19th Century, thereby insuring that its remarkable history would never be lost. The inscription reads, “My dear Sir, Not for any intrinsic value the thing possesses, but as a token of my sincere regard and friendship for you, and as a remembrance of me, I pray you to accept a wine cooler for four bottles. It is one of four which I imported in the early part of my late administration of the Government, two of which were ever used. I pray you to present my best wishes, in which Mrs. Washington joins me to Mrs. Hamilton, and the family, and that you would be persuaded that with every sentiment of the highest regard, I remain your sincere friend, and affectionate humble servant: Geo. Washington.”
Traffic was heavy and so I arrived late for 2nd Tuesday’s at Slocum at Heritage Galleries in Dallas. These events provide some of the best opportunities anywhere in the metro to learn about antiques and fine art, and so I knew it wasn’t to be missed. This session was an introduction to collecting silver.
When I arrived there were so many cars outside I figured the wine and cheese would be gone. Happily I was handed a glass when I walked in the door and headed over to a room setup that was new to me. The tables had been placed in two large squares and white gloves lay at each table setting. The lecture by Tim Rigdon, director of silver and vertu at Heritage, was already in progress. I’m afraid I missed the bulk of it, but the portion I did catch provided an overview of the varying degrees of quality in some regency silver, and described how pairs of silver become mis-matched over the years. Shown on the screen was a pair of Regency urns, one predating the other. Higdon says he was able to find another such pair in a Virginia museum. Obviously the pairings became switched over time.
English silver, American silver, Mexican silver Chinese silver and even Sheffield Plate were discussed. Then it was time to put on the white gloves and begin to look at hallmarks.
It’s hard to come away from these events with enough knowledge to be able to look at objects with a measurable increased intelligence, so perhaps the most useful portion was the book recommendations. They include the Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers (Schiffer Book for Collectors) and for the English silver, the Pocket Edition Jackson’s Hallmarks.
If you weren’t able to attend, or were late like me, it’s a great service that Heritage records these events and makes them available online. (click on the Reference tab at www.ha.com) You’ll have to supply the wine and cheese.
The Miami National Antiques Show may be remembered best for me as the time I began to notice and learn about Sheffield plate. This is thanks to a Florida dealer with a British accent named John Forster. It wasn’t because of Forster exactly that I noticed a piece of Sheffield plate at the show, but it was he who gave me enough information in a brief amount of time that made me confident enough that I knew what I was buying. That’s what an antique dealer should be able to do.
I don’t think I had run into Forster previously at shows, but he seems to be a regular and features primarily barometers. Another dealer I spoke with knew him as someone who could repair any barometer, including the one in their booth. Before we made it to Forster’s booth, another had referred him as a source of information on Sheffield plate.
The presence of these kind of dealers can make a show for someone interested in learning as well as shopping. In a business where knowledge is money, finding dealers interested in informed customers can be refreshing. It was actually a small book on Sheffield plate we came into Forester’s booth for, the cost of which was refunded with the purchase of a pair of wine coasters.
Sheffield plate isn’t for everyone, but there did seem to be something to peak most anyone’s interest at the Miami National Antiques Show. As one dealer explained, there are two major shows this time of year in Miami, and this one has traditionally been a buy-and-sell for dealers ahead of the bigger (800 dealer) Original Miami Beach Antiques Show, February 3-7. Another dealer disagreed with that assessment, however.
In any case, there was a wide-array of merchandise including paintings, clocks, Chinese and Japanese art and decorative items, vintage clothing, jewelry, glassware and even a vintage movie projector and taxidermied rhinocerous (with replacement tusks).
One item we noticed was a figure of “Rising Day” by Adolph Alexander Weinman. Rising day and its companion, Descending Night were originally designed as fountain figures fort he 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Following the exhibition, Weinman reproduced both works in two sizes, one measuring approximately 24 inches tall and the other approximately 57 inches. Dealer Brian Sullivan also had the accompanying sculpture but hadn’t brought it to the show because of “an engaged buyer.”
Elinor Gordon, the legendary Chinese export porcelain dealer and scholar, has passed away more than one and half years ago, but items with her labels live on. A famous British Chinese export porcelain dealer told me that dealers usually take off other dealers’ label upon transaction, except those of Elinor Gordon, which provide provenance such that no dealer want to extingish. David Anthony, from MA brought two pieces of Chinese export porcelain, made specially for the American market, with the label of Elinor Gordon. In fact, the items were illustrated in her book – Collecting Chinese export porcelain. The plate and sugar bowl were part of the set made for Mehhitable Adams (1760-1824), a member of the distinguished Braintree, MA family. The cipher “MA” is painted in gilt. The hearts are rendered in rough de fer with green and blue enamel colors and gilt. The borders, in blue enamel and gilt stars clearly showed the classical period style. In the book, Elinor admitted that she purchased from a direct descendant of the family. Thanks to the book, now the future owner can enjoy the pieces without too much homework.
William Union had a booth full of paintings including one labeled as being painted by William Mills, which may have actually been Wilfrid T. Mills (1912-1988), of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. The painting was adorable, but the signature was unclear and the painting was labeled as being completed in 1925, at which time Mills would have been only 13. In Union’s defense, this painting was owned and had been labeled by another dealer. Still, it goes back to the theme of being ready to fully inform a potential buyer about an object.
Christopher English’s booth is hard to miss. In the past, they have brought taxidermied squirrels (playing baseball!) to the Pier Antiques Show in New York. That was hard to outdo, but this time, they decided to bring something bigger – rhinoceros. Stephen, the co-owner, said that such gigantic animals were found in Africa or Asia. This particular one was hunted and made into taxidermy about 50 years ago. Wheels have been installed at the bottom of each foot, so that it can also be easily moved around the house. The asking price was$28,000.