The Harvard Art Museums announce a transformative gift of 21 works of 18th-century American silver from the collection of Daniel A. Pollack and Susan F. Pollack. The gift comprises a range of finely made vessels and table implements intended for domestic use, including cups, bowls, spoons, tankards, and teapots crafted by noted silversmiths from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Trenton. There is also a stunning caudle cup, an example of ecclesiastical silver made by Edward Winslow and believed to have been used during communion at First Congregational Church in Milford, CT. The Pollacks’ gift strengthens the museums’ noted holdings of 17th- to 20th-century silver and comes at a time when curators and postdoctoral fellows are working to reimagine the balance among paintings, sculptures, and design objects on view in the galleries.
“The story of silver is in many ways a story of the Americas. Like other commodities such as coffee, mahogany, sugar, and tea, silver helps us unite the known world of the 16th century with our own time,” said Horace D. Ballard, the Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. Associate Curator of American Art at the Harvard Art Museums. “The Pollacks’ generosity allows us to more fully engage the capacious and complex story of European privilege and Afro- and indigenous labor across the Spanish-occupied Americas and British North America during the age of colonialization. It is estimated that 50 to 80 percent of the world’s silver from the 16th to early 19th century came from the infamous silver mines of Potosi in the Viceroyalty of Peru. Silver ore was shipped to China from America’s primary Pacific port in Peru; traded to Europe along with porcelain; melted into coin, plate, or brick; and then traded back to the Americas through the eastern seaboard ports of the Atlantic coast, to be molded, designed, and sold to merchants, religious institutions, and wealthy families. Works by American silversmiths of the 18th and 19th centuries are noted for their innovative silhouettes, turnings, and naturalistic allusions to animals and plants. The Pollack gift and its upcoming installations in our galleries will foreground this global orientation around luxury, leading us to ask new questions about hemispheric identity and aesthetic legacy.”
Highlights of the gift include, from Boston-based silversmiths, a pair of ragout (serving) spoons from 1786 by Paul Revere, Jr., and a c. 1765 rococo-style cream jug and c. 1775 porringer (small bowl) with a keyhole-pattern handle by Benjamin Burt; a soup ladle with a shell-shaped bowl from c. 1772 and a waiter (small salver) from c. 1765 by the pioneering Jewish silversmith and philanthropist Myer Myers of New York; and an apple-shaped teapot from c. 1745 by Joseph Richardson, Sr., for prominent Quakers Hannah and William Logan, as well as a coffeepot by Richardson’s sons, Joseph Jr. and Nathaniel, both of whom trained with their father in Philadelphia. These are the first works by the Richardsons to enter the museums’ collections. The earliest object from the gift is the aforementioned caudle cupfrom 1707 by Edward Winslow of Boston.