Covered Water Pitcher
Object Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Overall: 34.3 x 25.4 x 14 cm, 1725 gm (13 1/2 x 10 x 5 1/2 in., 55 t.oz., 14 dwt)
Medium or Technique
Kristin and Roger Servison Gallery (Gallery 133)
The water pitcher or urn with hinged cover is seated upon a square plinth supported by hairy paw feet. The cast hollow handle is in the form of an eagle’s head that grasps the lid in its beak; the handle terminates in a scroll. Chased acorn leaves radiate from the center of the lid and base of the urn; the cast finial is in the form of a dolphin with tail upraised. A narrow milled band of repeating stars adorns the lip of ewer, and a broad milled band of stylized leaves is located at the shoulder. Repairs include the straightening of the dolphin’s tail on the finial, the removal of a dent in the lid, and the removal of ten lead solder marks on the body, near the central milled band. Crossed palms are engraved on the side of the rectangular base.
Philadelphia silversmiths Thomas Fletcher and Sidney Gardiner established a reputation for creating some of the finest Neoclassical silver made in America. They succeeded in attracting and executing some thirty major commissions between 1812 and 1842 and set a high standard with their elaborate compositions, large and vertically scaled work, and highly skilled execution. The two men established a partnership in Boston in 1808, but its origins are obscure. Gardiner was born in Southold, Long Island; Fletcher was born in Alstead, New Hampshire, and as a youth lived in the Lancaster, Massachusetts, area.
Fletcher was living in Boston as early as 1806 and by 1807, at age twenty, was engaged as an apprentice shopkeeper in the workshop and warehouse of jeweler Joseph C. Dyer. When Dyer was bought out by John McFarlane in April 1808, Fletcher worked for his new employer. McFarlane apparently intended to dissolve the business at auction in October 1808, but before the sale, Fletcher and Gardiner aranged to purchase most, if not all, of McFarlane’s stock. Donald L. Fennimore has speculated that Gardiner had worked as a silversmith for Dyer and later McFarlane, thus coming into contact with Fletcher. In an announcement celebrating the new enterprise of Fletcher and Gardiner, customers were assured that “the whole attention of one of the partners will be devoted to this [manufacturing] part of the business.” As Fletcher was listed as the manager in the publication, Gardiner was likely the silversmith.
During their brief partnership in Boston, which lasted from November 1808 to September 1811, they sold a variety of imported plated goods, jewelry, and personal accessories along with silver and jewelry that they made in Boston. Among surviving items bearing their marks are plain two-handled beakers made for the Second Baptist Church in Boston and Church of Christ in Hadley; some fiddle-handled spoons made for the Salisbury family of Worcester; and a hair bracelet.
These ambitious young men enjoyed a profitable business during their short tenure in Boston, and they arranged for their brothers Charles Fletcher (b. 1794), George Fletcher (b. 1796), and Baldwin Gardiner (1791 – 1869) to join them as either apprentices or employees. When James Fosdick Fletcher (1785 – 1820), an older brother of Thomas Fletcher, retailed their work in New Orleans in 1808, the partners could appreciate the opportunities that lay in such new and lucrative markets. Their decision to relocate to Philadelphia in 1811 was no doubt informed by such observations. Despite their financial success in Boston, New York and Philadelphia were rapidly emerging as important commercial centers. Their timing proved to be fortuitous, for in Philadelphia their reputation grew quickly as designers and makers of fashionable silver.
It is unclear whether their marriages to members of the Veron family influenced the move to Philadelphia, their success in their adopted city, or their embrace of the French Neoclassical style. A Mrs. Veron took jewelry orders at the shop’s 59 Cornhill location in Boston; Sidney Gardiner married Mary Holland Veron in Boston 1811; his younger brother Baldwin apprenticed with the partners in Boston and followed them to Philadelphia. In 1815 he married Louise-Leroy Veron, who was recorded as the daughter of Etienne and Melanie (Melina) Veron of St. Malo, France. Two years later, Baldwin Gardiner, together with Lewis Veron (1793 – 1853), established the fancy hardware company of Gardiner, Veron, and Company. Last, partner Thomas Fletcher married Meline Degrasse Veron in 1818.
The War of 1812 provided the silversmiths with some of the most prestigious commissions of the period, ordered by grateful citizens for victorious American commanders. The radical change in style from their earlier Boston-made silver may have been due to the influx of French imports to Philadelphia and a nexus of French-born silversmiths such as John Tanguy (1780 – 1858) and Simon Chaudron (1798 – 1814) who had settled in the area; it is probable that the partners employed émigré silversmiths from France or England to execute their designs. The firm’s reputation continued to grow even after Gardiner’s death in 1827. A tea service, made in 1838 for Nicholas Biddle at a cost of $15,000, was considered “superb” by New York City mayor Philip Hone (1780 – 1851), who remarked, “Nobody in this world of ours hereabouts can compete with them in their kind of work.”
The French Neoclassical style that characterized their presentation silver is also evident in the sculptural form and delicately cast and chased details of such domestic forms as this covered pitcher, which is a superb example of the silver they fashioned in Philadelphia. Several variations of the form survive. An identical example with an inscribed dedication is in the Bayou Bend collection; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of the City of New York, and Winterthur Museum own related pitchers.
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.
"PHILADA" and "F & G" each within rectangles on base
Purchased by Robert F. Trent, Baldwin's Bookstore, at auction February 6, 1995, The Hall Family Auction Gallery, Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, as advertised in Antiques and The Arts Weekly, February 3, 1995, and shortly thereafter sold to the Museum.
Gift of Family and Friends in memory of George Seybolt