SAMUEL CASEY ANTIQUE SILVER COFFEEPOTS
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In check lists of the colonial silversmiths, many a master craftsman who lived soberly, fathered a dozen fine children, was a deacon in his church and captain of the militia, rates a dull three-line notice. Samuel Casey, whose respectable career came to a scandalous end, is given half a page.
Samuel Casey was born 1723/4 at Newport, Rhode Island. He may have been apprenticed, as Kathryn C. Buhler has suggested, to Jacob Hurd of Boston, for whose daughter Ann he made a spoon dated 1751. Casey was made freeman in 1745 in Exeter, and about 1750 moved to Little Rest (South Kingston) where he was a freeman in 1752. He married in 1753, and from that year worked in partnership with his brother Gideon (1726-1786) until in 1762 Gideon moved to Warwick. Arrested in 1770 for counterfeiting, Samuel Casey was tried and convicted, and sentenced to be hanged. But he was delivered from jail by loyal friends, and vanished from sight. We are not here concerned, however, with Casey's misbehavior. This is to report the discovery of a wonderful coffeepot he made, apparently unique in American silverwork, recently found in England.
Samuel Casey made many workmanly objects of good weight and careful finish, simple in taste but of handsomely judged form. For its Rhode Island Tercentenary loan exhibition of portraits, furniture, and silver in 1936, the Rhode Island School of Design gathered 37 examples of Samuel Casey's silver. Greatest in number were five keyhole-handled porringers. (Altogether, there are 14 of these known by Casey, plus a pair discovered in England). There were a pair of hoof-footed sauceboats, and four cream jugs. There were three fine tankards, including a Garvan; one of these was perhaps a tankard sold in November 1929 at Sotheby's in London. A teapot in the exhibition was one of three quite similar, all with the inverted pyriform body, all valanced with engraving or flat chasing around the lid.
In the 1911 exhibition of ‘American Church Silver’ at the Boston Museum, there were still another tankard, one more cream jug, and a cann with leaf-topped double-scroll handle. With three bell-shaped small cups, a few casters and salts, tongs, and several silver spoons; this seems to complete the list of Samuel Casey's recorded work. Now we can add this elaborate coffeepot, apparently the only one he made.
English precedent for the form of this silver coffeepot is found in two London examples of some years earlier, 1737 and 1741. Here is a plain George II pot with octagonal spout, low-domed lid, plain handle sockets with a molded drop on the body. Its companion shows the developing fashion for rococo enrichments - a spout and handle sockets quite like Casey's, a double-domed cover the same, relief chasing of massy scrolls and flowers with acanthus frilling.
But the ornament of this pot is its glory. Worked in relief upon a matted ground, and framed with molded C-scrolls, the body shows flower branches and fruit sprays, scallop shells and acanthus. Frilling surrounds the spout, with panels of imbrication below, and large frilled cartouches crowd both sides of the body. For this, it is not too much to say that Casey's pot numbers among the six or eight most elaborate pieces of pre-Revolutionary American silver. We think of such as Edward Winslow's sugar box or John Coney's great or the famous Joseph Richardson kettle, all in the Garvan collection.
Obviously, such work as George Wickes' was Casey's model. Casey's coffeepot has a distinctly un-American look, and we can already hear the dissenting cries of skeptics. Is this decoration original, or is it a later addition?
Much early silver was "improved" in the nineteenth century, from Regency through Victorian times. Considered too plain, it was given new-fashioned embellishments in the Rococo Revival manner, sometimes coarse and heavy-handed, sometimes naturalistic and trivial. But comparisons will show that Casey's pot follows mid-eighteenth, not this nineteenth-century taste. The fact that this pot came to light in England (carried there, presumably, by some royalist who fled America at the time of the Revolution) suggests another possibility. Might the showy decoration have been added by a London engraver? Hardly - for by then, its style would have been some thirty years out of date. For all its Englishness, Casey's pot was surely "born that way" in Rhode Island. Its form and ornament are integral.
An American eagle atop the lid asks us to notice little strangeness in the rich design - awkward or uncertain lapses, such as might betray an engraver working from a pattern book of unfamiliar designs, which he sometimes copied verbatim or again rearranged in rather hesitant fashion. Mrs. Buhler has already shown (in the April 1940 Bulletin, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) that Samuel Casey consulted Sympson's ‘New Book of Cyphers’ (1726). Undoubtedly he used other design books, too.
Lastly, some curious armorial and other engravings offer an interesting suggestion. Within the ornately frilled cartouche on one side of the body is a beautifully rendered coat of arms, its dexter quartering perhaps for Micklethwait, the sinister not yet identified. Jutting from the right of this cartouche, onto a cramped area of plain ground, is a tree trunk with a leafy branch. Evidently this was not a crest. Could it have been an American provincial's way of indicating that his patron belonged to "a branch" of the family whose arms he depicted?
Opposite, the matching cartouche is engraved with the crest of a griffin's head. Above and left of it, an embossed American eagle perches upon a scroll of ornament. And on the field below and to the right, a speckled insect is poorly drawn. An entomologist assures us that no such insect ever flew; it is not the Jacobite moth, but more resembles a butterfly. What is it doing there?
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