Large silver beverage pitchers, used for serving everything from water and lemonade to punch and fine wine, became popular during the early 19th century. The dramatic and assertive American Empire style was particularly well suited to this impressive form. In Boston, the Empire style was less robust and pompous than in other centers, and compared to New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore examples, this pitcher is especially graceful and restrained. The loose cover may indicate that it was originally intended for the service of wine at dinner.
The design of the pitcher shows less direct French influence than much American silver of the period. The delicately chased water leaves around the lower body and the cap of the acorn finial reflect early Egyptian precedents. The urn form, with its widely flaring pouring lip bound by a simple applied molding, is classical Greek in inspiration. The hollow scroll handle, however, presages the rococo revival style of the later 1830s and 1840s.
The pitcher is engraved with the name of the famous lawyer, orator, and politician Daniel Webster (1782–1852). Webster was born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, and graduated from Dartmouth College. After studying law in a Boston firm, he returned to New Hampshire to open his own office. Webster first achieved political prominence while practicing law in Portsmouth, where he became a spokesman for the township owners and merchants in their opposition to the 1807 embargo against all shipping. He was elected to Congress and served from 1813 to 1817. In 1816 he moved to Boston and soon numbered the city’s leading businessmen among his clients. He argued a series of important cases before the Supreme Court between 1819 and 1824, and represented Massachusetts in the House of Representatives from 1823 to 1827, and in the Senate from 1827 to 1841 and 1845 to 1850. Webster ran for President in 1836 and served as Secretary of State under William Henry Harrison (1841), John Tyler (1841–1843), and Millard Fillmore (1850–1852). This pitcher was probably presented to him by a Boston client or appreciative supporter.1New Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Daniel Webster.”
John B. Jones was the son of a silversmith of the same name who seems not to have used the middle name or initial. The younger Jones worked in Boston from 1816 to 1837 as a silversmith and jeweler. In 1838, S.S. Ball joined him to form John B. Jones and Company. The name changed to Jones, Low and Ball when John L. Low entered the firm in 1839. The company eventually became Shreve, Crump and Low, the still-flourishing Boston firm. Two pitchers with melon reeding, possibly stock items from Jones’s shop, were presented by the Salem Commercial Insurance Company to Captain Nathaniel Garland in 1823. In later years, Jones became a banker and eventually served as Treasurer of the East Boston Company.2Buhler 1979, 70; Belden 1980, 251–52; Warren et al., 89.
Barbara McLean Ward and Jennifer F. Goldsborough
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.