Chafing dish

about 1710–25
Edward Winslow (American, 1669–1753)


Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts

Dimensions

10.8 x 26 x 15 cm (4 1/4 x 10 1/4 x 5 7/8 in.)

Accession Number

1980.627

Medium or Technique

Silver

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The raised bowl-shaped chafing dish has a depressed center; the scored rim has drawn and applied molding. The side of the body is pierced in a repeating foliate pattern. A circular pierced grate seats over a recessed ember box and is secured beneath the vessel with a threaded silver nut and bolt having a domed head. Three vertical, flat supports conform to the convex sides. The supports terminate above the rim in chased shell-pattern dish rests and extend outward at base to form a rounded pad foot over a hemispherical section, housing spherical wooden feet. The exterior of each leg is reinforced with a narrow band of silver applied between the ember box and foot. The modern turned wooden handle is secured to a tapering socket, circular in section, and fitted over vertical side supports.


Considered “among the chief aristocrats in the category of old plate,” chafing dishes are among the rarest forms of colonial silver tableware. Primarily of Dutch and French origin, they are related to humbler examples, also called braziers, that served as simple space or food warmers and that were made of common materials such as clay, brass, or copper. In the hands of talented silversmiths, the utilitarian brazier was transformed into an elegant accessory whose delicate cast elements and lively saw-pierced decoration added a refined note to the colonial table.
The term chafing dish is derived from the French word for the form, réchauffé, meaning “a dish that has been warmed or reheated.” Designed to keep food warm at the dining table, chafing dishes were a welcome addition to colonial homes lacking in modern insulation. Plates of food were positioned on three supports and heated from below by a dish filled with burning charcoal. Embers glowed through the pierced sides of the bowl, which provided necessary ventilation for combustion, and the ashes fell through a pierced grill into a small receptacle. The heat generated during use may have damaged many silver examples and account for the rare survival of the form. The popularity of chafing dishes extended from the 1690s until the 1740s, with only a few later examples dating from the 1750s.
Of the thirty-five or so extant examples of colonial chafing dishes, most were fashioned in Massachusetts by at least seventeen silversmiths. Jacob Hurd was the most prolific, and about a dozen examples bear his mark.
Far fewer examples hail from New York and Philadelphia. In those cities, Peter Van Dyck (1684 – 1751), Adrian Bancker (1703 – 1772), Johannis Nys (1671 – 1734), and Philip Syng II (1703 – 1789) were among the few silversmiths known to fashion this useful table accessory. Curiously, the two known chafing dishes by Winslow are closer in style to the Van Dyck and Bancker examples than to their Boston counterparts. They can be considered as part of a larger group, categorized by Barbara McLean Ward as “type B” for having the ember box and vessel raised as a single unit; they also form a subgroup with the New York/Philadelphia examples in that their convex sides are pierced with a stylized fleur-de-lis pattern, and each displays deep ash receptacles. The three strap legs that form the feet and supports are likewise similar in that they conform to the bowl and have flattened shell supports.
The chief differences between the above-mentioned chafing dishes and those by Winslow can be discerned in the handling of the feet and the placement of the handle socket. The Museum’s chafing dish has a modified pad-and-sphere foot that houses a wooden insulating ball. By contrast, the New York examples terminate in flat chased forms that echo the shell supports. The handle of each Winslow chafing dish is soldered to the vertical supports rather than to the body, as found in the New York examples.
Many similarities exist between the two Winslow chafing dishes, but subtle differences in proportions and details suggest that they might have been made as many as ten or fifteen years apart. The bowl portion of the Museum’s example has a more horizontal profile, in keeping with early-eighteenth-century silver, whereas the taller form of the second vessel offers a vertical orientation that found favor as the decades progressed. Similarly, a comparison of the lower section of the Museum’s chafing dish has circular piercings in a shallow ash receptacle instead of the inverted teardrops over a deeper container that are found in the second version. In this analysis, the teardrops may be construed as looking toward the inverted pear form that became a fashionable rococo statement. Last, the Museum’s dish sports silver hemispherical cups to which are affixed wooden feet, a feature that adds to its horizontal axis and one that is missing from the other example. Given these differences, Winslow’s “EW” conjoined mark, found on the latter chafing dish and thought to indicate works made after 1720, may be offered as further proof that it was the second of the two works.

This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.

Inscription

On bottom "G / T * R / to / L H" appears in shaded roman letters. Later script engraving notes history of ownership as "Thomas R. Goodwill / to / Lydia Holmes (Bishop) / to Rebecca Bishop / to / John Bishop / to / Lydia H. Bishop (Jones) / to Heber R. Bishop / 1861 / to Ogden M. Bishop / 1903; Known to have been in the family over 100 Years" At the request of the donor, after its acquisition by the museum, the following text was added below the date "1903": "to / James Bishop Peabody / 1955."

Markings

On bottom of dish is stamped "EW" over a fleur-de-lis within a shaped cartouche.
Ada Mark * F4779

Provenance

The chafing dish was probably made for Thomas Goodwill (1687-1749), Boston selectman and shipwright, and Rebecca Blakeman (bp. 1689) of Boston, sometime after their marriage in 1710. The chafing dish was passed to their granddaughter Lydia Holmes (1758-1807), child of Rebecca Goodwill (1717-1800) and Nathaniel Holmes (1703-1774), sometime before her marriage to John Bishop (1755-1833) in 1782; to their daughter Rebecca Bishop (1785-1807), who died unmarried; to her brother John Bishop (1787-1830), who died unmarried, or her father, both of whom were alive in 1807; to Lydia H. Bishop (1828-1860), niece or granddaughter to the John Bishops, and wife of Samuel Howell Jones, who died without issue; to her brother, Heber Reginald Bishop (1840-1902) who married Mary Cunningham; to his son Ogden Mills Bishop (1878-1955), died unmarried; to his grand-nephew, James Bishop Peabody (1922-1977), a trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and secretary of the Museum from 1971 until his death in 1977; made a gift by his wife, the former Ann Reinecke.
Sources:
G. Arthur Gray, Esq., "George Holmes of Roxbury, Mass. and Some of His Descendants," NEHGR 58 (1904) 28, 3143-44. Joseph Tracy Eustis, "William Tracy Eustis," NEHGR 61 (1907):220; Herbert Freeman Adams, The Compendium of Tufts Kinsmen (Boston: Tufts Kinsman Project, 1975), p. 11; Medford Vital Records to 1850, pp. 20, 185, 339; Thomas J. Goodwill, 300 Years in America: A History of the Goodwill Family (1985, privately printed), pp. 11-2; Diana L. Smith, comp. The Heber Reginald Bishop Genealogy (Jamestown, RI: Privately printed, 1987), charts 1, 5, 6. Note that the letter "R" noted as the middle initial for Thomas Goodwill in the later engraving is probably a misreading of the initials for the first owner and his wife, Rebecca.

Credit Line

Gift of Mrs. James B. Peabody in memory of the late James Bishop Peabody