Samuel Gray (American, 1684–1713)
Object Place: Boston, Massachusetts
Overall: 1.1 x 11.4 cm (7/16 x 4 1/2 in.)
Medium or Technique
Manning House (Gallery LG36)
The slender two-tined fork has an upturned trifid-shaped handle tip and is engraved throughout in a mannerist style
The fork came into use late in Western cultures, joining knives and spoons as table utensils only in the 1500s. The form first appeared in Italy before being adopted by the English in the 1600s. The growing emphasis upon dining etiquette, particularly hygiene, may have influenced its creation and design. In 1611 Englishman Thomas Coryat observed its use, noting that “the Italian cannot by any means endure to have his dish touched with the fingers, seeing all men’s fingers are not alike cleane. Herupon I myselft thought good to imitate the Italian fashion by this forked cutting of meate.”
Forks appeared on colonial American tables shortly thereafter, but in small numbers. In 1633 Gov. John Winthrop received a “case containing an Irish skeayne or knife, a bodekyn & a forke for the useful application of which I leave to your discretion,” indicating that the proper use of the items was yet unclear. Such utensils were enjoyed only by the wealthy, including Winthrop and a handful of well-to-do colonists such as Mary Browne (1674-1753), who owned a travel set of five miniature knives, forks, and spoons, which were stored in a shagreen case.
In colonial New England, forks were imported until the early 1700s, after which date a small number were made locally for privileged members of society such as Rebecca Chambers, whose initials grace this example by Samuel Gray. As a new and fashionable form, the fork would have been a desirable purchase made by her father, the Hon. Charles Chambers, Esq. (1650-1743) a member of His Majesty’s council, judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and treasure for the County of Middlesex.
This small fork may have been part of a set, originally accompanied by a spoon or knife (or both) as well as a travelling case. It bears a remarkable resemblance to a fork and spoon made by John Coney about 1700. All three are similar in weight and scale; they further share a two-tined form, trifid shape, and comparable engraved decoration, including the human face or “green man” in the foliate area and the position of the initials and makers’ marks.
Scholars have suggested that either John Coney or Jeremiah Drummer may have been Gray’s master. Indeed, the survival of these unusual examples, along with six forks among Gray’s inventoried shop goods, supports a master-apprentice relationship with Coney. This for is one of only three items that have been attributed to Gray.
Gray began practicing his craft about 1705 and moved to New London by April 1707, the time of his marriage there to Lucy Palmes. Therefore, the fork may have been made between 1705 and 1707.
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.
Engraved "R C" in oval at top of front.
Marked "S G" in a heart at top of back.
Probably made for Rebecca Chambers (1691-1729), who married Daniel Russell (b. 1685) in 1711; by descent in the family, probably to their son, James Russell (1715-1798) and his wife Katherine Graves (1717-1778), maried in 1738; by descent to their daughter, Rebecca Russell (1747-1816), who married Judge John Lowell (1743-1808) in 1778; by descent to their daughter, Rebecca Russell Lowell (1779-1853), who married Samuel Pickering Gardner (1767-1843) in 1797; by descent to their son, George Gardner (1809-1884) and his wife Helen Maria Read (1819-1888), married in 1838; by descent to Elizabeth Gardner (b. 1843); by descent to her great-grand-daughter, Catherine Coolidge Lastavica. 2004, gift of Ms. Lastavica to the MFA (Accession date: Feb 25, 2004)
Gift of Catherine Coolidge Lastavica in memory of her great-grandmother Elizabeth Gardner Amory and in honor of her cousin John Lowell Gardner