ANTIQUE SILVER, SILVERPLATE, BRONZES AND OTHER METALS IN WILLIAMSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA
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Silver was a highlight of luxurious living in the eighteenth century, as it has been in other eras. Silver vessels for eating and drinking, silver ornaments, silver lighting devices, suited the taste of the time for elegance and refinement, and their forms answered the demands of new customs. New delicacy in table manners was made possible by the use of forks, which became general at the beginning of the century. Like the cabinetmakers and potters, the silversmiths met the introduction of tea, coffee, and chocolate with a variety of new pots for serving them and containers for the milk and sugar that went with them. Some of the old forms became obsolete and there was a wide diversity of new silver utensils, reflecting the love of rich and graceful ornament - casters for salt, sugar, and spices; sets of plates and flatware; tureens, sauceboats, dish rings, salvers, and condiment stands; culminating in the ornamental masterpieces of pierced fruit baskets and epergnes, such as may be seen in the Palace dining room.
Silver punch bowls were sometimes made in the form known as a monteith (from the Scotsman of that name who wore a scalloped coat); the detachable scalloped rim, designed to hold wineglasses, could be removed when the time came to make the punch. One of the most important pieces of silver at Williamsburg is the silver-gilt monteith on stand in the Palace supper room.
As might be expected, most of the silver to be seen at Williamsburg is in the most luxurious residence, the governor's Palace. It also seems natural that most of that should be of English make; though nearly a score of silversmiths are recorded in Williamsburg before the Revolution, they probably imported as much as they made. There is only one American piece in the Palace, a silver-handled brandy warmer by James Geddy (1731-1807) of Williamsburg; a spoon by him is in the Archaeological Museum. An American cann and snuffbox are in the Brush-Everard house. The handsome array of English silver in the Palace dining room includes a number of noteworthy pieces in addition to the rare sconces on the wall.
Besides exhibiting fine design and craftsmanship, several items have the added richness of being gilded. The earliest pieces are two Elizabethan tankards on the mantel - contemporary with the great oak bed upstairs. Others represent what might have been brought by successive royal governors to add luxury and elegance to the Palace. Pewter dishes were used behind the scenes at the Palace, but fashionable people had come to regard them as beneath their dignity by the mid-1700's. There was still a lot of pewter in use, however, throughout the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth. Taverns went on using it after the better homes had discarded it; the Raleigh was buying pewter as late as 1771, judging from an entry in the Hay inventory of a doz. New pewter “soop plates." These and the other pewter utensils used in Williamsburg were almost certainly imported. Quantities of the ware were brought from England, particularly during the first half of the eighteenth century, and even thereafter pewtermaking never developed in the South as it did in the northern Colonies.
Heavy eating as well as heavy drinking was the rule in colonial Williamsburg. The cooking was done over an open fire in a small kitchen building detached from the house. Spits were kept turning busily roasting meats, and there was an array of enormous pots and kettles, some holding up to fifteen gallons, which hung from iron cranes and trammels. Ready to hand about the fireplace were implements of brass, copper, and iron in extraordinary variety - fire tongs, shovels, long-handled toasters and saucepans, braziers, forks and skewers, ladles and trivets, measures. Nearby were mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, spice box, and mixing bowls of wood or pottery.
Cupboards were filled with pewter and stoneware. Preparations reached a climax when it was time for a meal to be served. "The procession of flunkies bearing great covered chafing dishes," says Grace Norton Rose in ‘Williamsburg Today and Yesterday’, "must have made the kitchen and courtyard a beehive." All this activity is vividly suggested by the variety of utensils in the kitchens of the Palace and the Wythe house today.
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