Pitcher, part of set

about 1875–76
Whiting Manufacturing Company (1866–1875 MA, 1876–1924 NY), William D. Whiting (American, active about 1840–1875), William M. Cowan (American, active about 1866–1875), Charles E. Buckley (American, active about 1866–1875), George E. Strong (American, active about 1870)


Object Place: probably North Attleboro, Massachusetts

Dimensions

Other: 17.2 x 29.9 x 24 cm, 1.3 kg (6 3/4 x 11 3/4 x 9 7/16 in., 2.9 lb.)

Accession Number

1975.669

Medium or Technique

Silver

Not On View

Collections

Americas

Classifications

Silver hollowware

The straight sides of the seamed pitcher rise to a slight lip and rest on a large stepped, molded base. The domed cover is stepped and has a cast lotus finial. The cover features a five-part hinge and is shaped to overlap the spout. The cast applied handles on the pitcher and the cups are composed of sections of banded stalks of lotus blossoms. A cast seated Greek sphinx serves as the thumbpiece above the pitcher’s handle, and the V-shaped spout is applied opposite the handle, over large strainer holes. The interior and exterior of the entire service were given a matte acid-etched surface before it was engraved; only the central dedicatory inscription appears on a polished ground. Engraved decoration consists of an Egyptian-style entranceway with cavetto molding, at the center of which is the inscription. At the base of the doorway are two floriform capitals and flanking it are a stringed instrument, two fans, and a vessel. Below is a sun disk flanked by uraei, with a lotus below and two lotus flowers (one in bud form) outstretched on long stalks. Engraved bands of stylized papyrus leaves, lotus flowers, and geometrical ornament encircle the domed cover, the upper and lower edges of the body, and the spout.


The enthusiastic revival of interest in Egyptian styles in the decorative arts in the 1860s and 1870s has been credited to the construction of the Suez Canal (completed in 1870) and the Cairo opening of Verdi’s Aida in 1871.
This impressive beverage service, dramatically plain in form and embellished with bold Egyptian motifs, served as a rich and fashionable gift in 1876, when it was presented to John Gilbert, the prominent stage actor, on his sixty-sixth birthday. It was given by Lester Wallack, a fellow actor, manager of New York’s Wallack’s Theatre, and Gilbert’s friend. Gilbert was known for his comedic roles, and the inscription encircling the cover is a toast from the second act of Oliver Goldsmith’s comedy She Stoops to Conquer (1773). Gilbert remained with Wallack’s company until it disbanded in 1888. Although Gilbert’s work kept him in New York, he maintained a home in Boston, where he had been born and raised and where he made his acting debut in 1828.
The Whiting Manufacturing Company was originally located in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. After a fire in 1875, F. Jones of Newark, New Jersey, salvaged the company’s property and reestablished factory and commercial operations in a large corner building at Broadway and Fourth Street in New York City. Since wares made after the fire have “New York” as part of their manufacturing marks, this beverage service, which carries the earlier Whiting mark, was probably produced in Attleboro. Having survived the fire, it may have been sold in New York in January or February of 1876. In 1924 the Whiting firm was purchased by Gorham and merged with its Providence, Rhode Island, operations.

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

"To John Gilbert / on his birthday / from his old friend and companion in Art / Lester Wallack / Feb. 27th 1876" on the front of the pitcher opposite the handle. Engraved in a circle around the lid "Be So Good As To Pledge Me / She Stoops To Conquer "

Markings

Incuse marks of a lion holding an elliptical cartouche emblazoned with “W / STERLING / 406 / A” struck on pitcher; “x334” lightly scratched on bottom.

Provenance

Given in 1876 to John Gilbert (1810-1889) by Lester Wallack (1819-1888); later history unknown until purchased in 1975 from Richard B. Pierce of Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts.

Credit Line

Marion Davis Fund