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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Harvard University's Antique Silver Collection

Harvard has a museum-quality collection of fine Colonial era silver dating back to 1637.  Most were handcrafted by noteable Boston silversmiths such as John Coney, Edward Winslow, and Ephraim Cobb.

The oldest piece, called the "Great Salt" was brought to America in 1638 by sailing ship from England, with Rev. Jose Glover and wife Elizabeth (who was later widowed and subsequently married Harvard's first president, Henry Dunster).

John Coney (considered one of Boston's finest silversmiths) made both the "Stoughton Cup" and the "Holyoke Caudel Cup".

The "Stoughton Cup", an ornately detailed, double-handled, covered vessel, was donated in 1701 by my cousin (7x removed, if I'm not mistaken -- he was the nephew of my 9th g-grandmother, Judith Stoughton Denman Smead), then acting Governor of Massachussetts Bay Colony, William Stoughton.

Portrait of William Stoughton by an unidentified artist, from the Harvard University Art Museum, Portrait Collection.  Notice the rendering of the ~original Stoughton Hall in the background.

William Stoughton was Harvard's most generous 17th century patron, and also funded the original Stoughton Hall.  Stoughton was known for being the presiding magistrate, or judge, at the Salem Witch Trials.

Stoughton's gift of fine silver to Harvard was intended for its commencement ceremony (which he unfortunately was too ill to attend; he passed away one week afterwards).

Although many of Harvard's patrons' donations of silver or money, etc., were intended mainly to gain privileges or favors for their own enrolled young scholars, William Stoughton was a childless bachelor who left most of his estate to one of his nephews (William Tailler, the son of his sister, Rebeccah Stoughton Tailler) -- so perhaps it was for them that he supported the University.  His father (my uncle, ?x removed), Colonel Israel Stoughton, also helped found Harvard, with a donation of 300 acres of prime real estate for the campus.

Harvard's silver collection is never used other than for formal ceremonial purposes, such as for the installations of their presidents or for visits from royalty (like Prince Charles' 1986 attendance at their 350th anniversary).

"They are not to be used, but to be regarded," said University Marshal, Richard Hunt.

"The Great Salt", made in England
(Someone actually once inadvertently displayed this piece upside-down, lol.)
The "Stoughton Cup", by Boston silversmith, John Coney

John Coney (1655-1722) was both a silver- and gold- smith, who specialized in engraving (he engraved the paper money for Massachussetts, in 1702).  Considered from the 1690s onward, to have been the most important Boston silversmith of his time -- he was the apprentice (and later brother-in-law) to the first American-born silversmith, Jeremiah Dummer.  (The Dummers were related to Chief Justice Samuel Sewall).

Coney's apprentices included Paul Revere's father, Apollos Rivoire (a French Huguenot); Connecticut brothers, Samuel and John Gray; and John Burt.
Many examples of Coney's work are displayed at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; and Sotheby's New York auction sold just one of his plates in 2002, for $324,750.

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