Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

New England Silver and Silversmithing, 1620-1815

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

New England Silver and Silversmithing, 1620-1815

Article excerpt

New England Silver and Silversmithing, 1620-1815. Edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W. R. Ward. Boston: University Press of Virginia in collaboration with The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 2001. 281 pages, illus. $65.00 (hardcover).

Publications by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts have contributed to the scholarly study of the state's early history. In the seventieth volume, New England Silver and Silversmithing, 1620-1815, select dedicated and passionate scholars explore America's original artist, the silversmith. The result of a 1996 conference on silver, cosponsored by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the text serves as a permanent record of the papers presented. A collection of eleven essays written by both burgeoning and renowned decorative art scholars and museum curators analyze silver through various contexts and methodologies in order to provide a more complete understanding of New England silver and silversmithing.

Indeed, these essays exemplify the historical trend in art of displacing connoisseurship for material culture and the social history of the art objects. Connoisseurship tends to view art as separate from historical context. While the authors in this volume continue to scrutinize silversmith marks, they also pair them with the complex social, economic, or civic issues of the colonial era. Their diverse scholarship has demonstrated a rich field in the decorative arts, a field in which this text will hopefully inspire future research.

Six broad categories divide the essays in the book: style, form, function, ecclesiastical silver, social context, and regional topics. These categories are far from exclusive, with several essays incorporating multiple topics. Essentially each of the authors ponder the importance of silver in colonial America from solid ore to tea pot and from purchase to donation. Yet one theme resonates throughout all the essays: the use of silver by the colonial gentry to enforce their hierarchical status in early America.

One essay, however, is without a category, "The Complexity of Silver" by Richard Lyman Bushman, acts as a broad introduction to New England silver, branching traditional connoisseurship into material culture. …

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